-- Make no mistake, Sidney Crosby
was well aware on the Pittsburgh Penguins
' bench that Steven Stamkos
scored his 51st goal in the final seconds of the Tampa Bay Lightning
's 3-1 win against the Florida Panthers
A fiery competitor, Crosby was determined to score his third goal of the night and claim sole possession of the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy as the NHL's leading goal scorer, but No. 87 was unable to notch No. 52 and was forced to settle for a tie with Stamkos as the Pens closed the regular season with a 6-5 overtime win against the New York Islanders
at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Crosby had a 51-50 lead on Stamkos after the Pens' captain beat Dwayne Roloson
55 seconds into the second period. But Stamkos, who just finished his second season in the League, iced Tampa Bay's victory when he scored an empty-net goal at 19:47 of the third period.
"That's probably the fastest I've skated all year," Stamkos said. "After all the posts I've had, sometimes you get one like that. It's nice either way. I'll take it. I guess it was meant to be, to get that one in the empty net.
"It's pretty surreal," Stamkos said. "To do it my second year in the League and to share it with players like Crosby is pretty special and with a guy like Ovechkin in the mix is pretty special because he's such a dominant scorer."
After Stamkos scored the Lightning bench erupted.
"The whole bench was up," Lightning coach Rick Tocchet
said. "It looked like he was shot out of a cannon (on the play). He was just flying. There's so many names on that trophy. It's pretty impressive."
Upon hearing the news from Craig Adams
on the bench that Stamkos had scored, Crosby wanted a third goal badly.
"There's nothing wrong with scoring a goal … there's nothing wrong with wanting to do that," Crosby said. "At least I was trying not to cheat out there. I think the main thing though was we were up 5-4 at the time. We were trying to get that goal. For sure I wanted to get that next one."
It showed. There was one stretch late in the third period where it seemed Crosby had the puck on his stick for close to a minute, skating around the Isles' zone looking for that perfect shot. All Penguins coach Dan Bylsma
could do was stand on the bench with his fingers crossed that Crosby wouldn't get injured.
Fortunately, he wasn't. Unfortunately, that third goal never came.
"There's certainly a balance in decisions made in the game," Bylsma admitted. "The way the game was being played, for everybody (there was) a delicate balance of trying to get to the playoffs as healthy as we can, but also playing the game.
"We were trying to get him in a situation where he'd be able to get that goal," Bylsma added. "We were just happy to see him get 50 and then get 51. We were trying to get him another one, but it was nice to see him get the two and at least be tied for the lead. He was outstanding tonight. Just even in the last couple of minutes and in overtime, the way he was dancing around in the offensive zone, he was pushing to get a goal."
Crosby now begins preparing for the Ottawa Senators
, who will be Pittsburgh's opponent in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Perhaps someday, he'll reflect on how he came oh-so-close to having sole possession of such a prestigious individual award at the tender age of 22.
"I'm not much for ties, but this in particular for sure I'll accept a tie," Crosby said. "It's not easy to score in this League at all. Steven had a great season. It was a race down the stretch."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL