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Hawks overcome Stamkos' big night in 5-3 win

by John Kreiser
The Tampa Bay Lightning saw their present and their future, all in the same game. The future looked a lot brighter.

Lightning rookie Steven Stamkos, the No. 1 pick in the Entry Draft last June, had his best game as a pro -- scoring three consecutive goals for his first NHL hat trick and giving the Bolts a 3-1 lead over Chicago. But the Blackhawks exposed the Lightning's problems on defense and in goal by scoring the game's last four goals, one in the final minute of the second period and three more in the third, on the way to a 5-3 victory Tuesday night.

Chicago improved to 9-1-1 in its last 11 games against the Lightning, which is 13th in the East and 28th overall after dropping to 2-6-1 in its last nine games.

"We stuck with it," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Obviously we got a huge goal (at the end of the second period) and that ignited us into the third. I like the way we're playing. We didn't change much at that point -- we haven't at all on the road -- and we just kept coming like we needed to."

With his father among the 15,431 fans in attendance at the St. Pete Times Forum, Stamkos tied the game at 1-1 by beating Cristobal Huet with a wrist shot at 12:58 of the first period -- enabling the Lightning to escape the first 20 minutes all even despite being outshot 19-3.

Stamkos completed the hat trick with a pair of power-play goals 70 seconds apart midway through the second period, zipping a wrist shot from the slot past Huet at 10:28 and scoring on a one-timer from the left circle at 11:38. The third goal drew a smattering of hats tossed onto the ice.

"This was one of the best feelings of the year for me so far, but I'd much rather have it in a win," Stamkos said.

The 19-year-old, who had just six goals in his first 53 games, now has four in his past three and became the first rookie in Lightning history to record a hat trick.

"He had some nice shots there," said interim coach Rick Tocchet, who since taking over from Barry Melrose in mid-November has put Stamkos on a strength-training program that's involved sitting out three games as a healthy scratch. "He's been working on his shot, and he's starting to hit the net more. His work is paying off."

Stamkos said he's feeling more confident on the ice.

"I'm the biggest critic of my game," he said. "At the beginning of the year, with all the stuff that was going on, playing five, six, seven minutes a game, it's tough to get confidence."

Unfortunately for Stamkos and the Lightning, the Hawks kept firing away -- they wound up outshooting Tampa Bay 49-23, the most shots the Bolts have allowed in a game since entering the NHL in 1992. Jonathan Toews scored on a power play with 48 seconds left in the second period and Patrick Kane's one-timer from the slot during another power play tied the game 1:46 into the third period.

Both teams had chances before Martin Havlat made the play that led to the go-ahead goal at 12:46. Havlat outbattled defenseman Cory Murphy behind the Tampa Bay net, bulled his way in front and slid a pass through the crease, where Dave Bolland put it into an empty net for a 4-3 lead.

Toews added his second of the night and 20th of the season at 15:59 as the Hawks won for the seventh time in 10 games -- nine of which have come on the road, where they are 17-11-3 and have 37 points, the fourth-highest total in the NHL.



"They have some great players -- like Stamkos," said Kane, the No. 1 pick in the 2007 Draft. "You can obviously see the talent he has. Overall, though, I think we did a good job of shutting plenty of people down, and you can tell we pretty much dominated."

Despite the loss, Tocchet said Stamkos' performance showed that he's starting to make the improvements needed to excel in the NHL.

"It's big because he knows he can play -- he can show his talents against a quality team like that," Tocchet said of his performance against the Hawks. "For him to be on that stage, when we needed those goals on the power play, that was big. The pressure was on and he came through.

"If you look at Chicago, they've got some young players in their second and third year. This is Steven's first year. It's a measuring stick for him, and he did well against those guys tonight."

Material from wire services was used in this report.


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