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Stamkos glad his first hat trick happened at home

by Mike G. Morreale
It took 54 games, but Tampa Bay Lightning rookie Steven Stamkos can take pride in the fact he recorded the first NHL hat trick of his career in fewer games than Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, Chicago's Patrick Kane and even teammate Vinny Lecavalier.

"Any time you get a hat trick it's pretty special, but to do it on home ice in my rookie season is a dream come true," Stamkos said. "I give credit to all my teammates. I had some pretty good passes and was able to capitalize on some power-play chances. This was one of the best feelings of the year for me so far, but I much rather have it in a win."

The Lightning held a 3-1 lead midway through the second period on the strength of Stamkos' natural hat trick, but were still beaten by the visiting Chicago Blackhawks, 5-3, Tuesday.

The three goals enabled Stamkos, the top pick in the 2008 Entry Draft last June, to become the first rookie in Lightning history to score three goals in a game. Additionally, he became the second youngest player in NHL history to record a natural hat trick. Washington's Bobby Carpenter was 18 when he scored three on Feb. 25, 1982.

Entering Friday's contest with the Carolina Hurricanes, Stamkos, who turned 19 on Feb. 7, had 7 goals, 13 points and a plus-5 rating in the last 24 games after posting 12 points and a minus-12 rating in his first 31. He totaled 15:24 of ice time on 21 shifts in the loss to the Blackhawks.

"For me, it's all about confidence," Stamkos said. "At the beginning of the year, with all the stuff that was going on and playing five, six, seven minutes a game, it's tough to get that confidence that you had in juniors. For me, I'm just starting to get that confidence now."

Slump snapper -- Washington Capitals forward David Steckel picked an opportune time to finally snap the streak.

Steckel, who hadn't scored in seven straight games prior to Wednesday's tilt with the Montreal Canadiens, redirected a picturesque shot from the slot with 2:39 left in the third to pull the Caps even in an eventual 4-3 shootout victory.

Steckel helped his own cause on the equalizer after winning the offensive-zone draw back to defenseman Tom Poti, who ripped a waist-high attempt from the point that Steckel deftly tipped with his stick blade past Canadiens keeper Carey Price.

Steckel, who has already established career highs in goals (7) and assists (8) this season, is also 10th in the League with a 55.8 faceoff winning percentage. For the 26-year-old wing in his second full season with the Caps, the 2008-09 campaign has been all about confidence.

"It's just having more confidence than last year when I was in my first season," Steckel told "I got hurt at the end of 2007-08 and came back for the playoffs. This season, I came in with a different mindset of not being just happy to be here but make an impact. Last year I struggling off the bat and then Bruce (Boudreau) came in and we went on a great run. For me, I've felt more comfortable this season and have received a chance to play a little more."

Headed to Helsinki -- The Florida Panthers will be one of four teams preparing to open the 2009-10 season overseas.

The Panthers, who seek their first playoff berth in eight seasons this spring, will be packing their bags and headed to Helsinki, Finland, to battle the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 2-3. On those same days, the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues will play in Sweden. It will mark the first time the Panthers will play outside North America.

Panthers coach Peter DeBoer, who attended the 1998 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships in Helsinki, will be looking forward to the business trip.

"It's a great opportunity to do some team building, to get away as a team," DeBoer told Dave Joseph for "We have a great opponent to start the season with Chicago. I think it's exciting being a young coach to have the opportunity. I think it's a great opportunity for our young players and our veterans. It's something new, and I think new is always good from an excitement standpoint and getting your team energized."

Many Florida players, including Helsinki native Ville Peltonen, know it will be an experience of a lifetime for the organization.

"(The fans) will pack the stadium and there will be a buzz around the city," Peltonen said. "They've been waiting for a game, a regular-season game, to be played where there are points on the line. It will be totally different than just playing an exhibition game. Fans will appreciate what the NHL is doing."

"I know there's a lot of NHL players from Finland, a lot of European players in the League right now," Florida forward Gregory Campbell said. "There's a lot of interest over there with our League and I think it's a good thing for teams to continue to go over there and grow our game and spike interest."

Rookie bookends -- Atlanta Thrashers rookie defensemen Zach Bogosian and Nathan Oystrick provided a glimpse of what the future could hold along the blue line following the trade of veteran Mathieu Schneider last weekend.

They not only were paired for much of their game against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday, but held the Western Conference opponent scoreless each time they shared the ice.

Bogosian, who had been partnered with the 39-year-old Schneider much of the season, certainly appeared comfortable and confident despite the absence of his mentor. In fact, the 18-year-old posted a season-high three points (all assists) in a 7-6 shootout victory against the Kings. Center Erik Christensen scored in the fourth round of the shootout to give the Thrashers their third victory in four games. Bogosian, who was on the ice for 19:36, also chipped in with 3 blocked shots.

"It's fun playing with a guy that's younger," Bogosian told Mike Knobler of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "It was a lot of fun playing with Mathieu, too, but now that he's gone, me and Oystrick are going to play together. The key for us is to communicate out there. It's a tough game out there, it's fast, but when you communicate it makes things a lot easier.

"We think alike out there. When he's up I know what he's thinking, and I'll stay back, and vice versa. It's good to play with a guy like that."

Oystrick, 26, finished the game with a game-high nine hits in 15:29 of ice time. He finished with a plus-2 rating.

"(Monday) worked well," Oystrick said, "and hopefully we can keep it going."

-- With forward Justin Williams placed on injured reserve with a broken bone in his hand, Carolina coach Paul Maurice will be relying on Patrick Eaves to pick up some of the offensive slack.

Eaves, who has split time alongside centers Matt Cullen and Rod Brind'Amour this season, has just two goals but leads the team with a plus-8 rating. Williams suffered a broken hand during the team's game in Buffalo on Feb. 15.

"Now's a really good time for him to start putting the puck in the net," Maurice said. "Where he's fallen off a little bit is when he's gone out with more offensive players, he's played more of an outside, perimeter, skilled game that doesn't suit him. He needs to take the fourth and third line mentality into the top two lines."

Ice chips
-- Ilya Kovalchuk was named the NHL's Third Star of the Week after posting a League-best five goals in the Thrashers' three games (2-1). The captain, who is on a six-game goal-scoring streak, currently leads the team with 30 goals and 63 points through 59 games. … Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green said he will give the Hockey Hall of Fame the stick he used during his eight-game goal-scoring streak, the longest by a defenseman in NHL history. The 23-year-old Green was hesitant to part with the blue and black Easton Stealth at first, but reconsidered on Wednesday. … On Saturday, Carolina's Niclas Wallin, Dennis Seidenberg and Ryan Bayda will shave their heads in an effort to raise awareness and funds for the St. Baldrick's Foundation. The St. Baldrick's Foundation raises awareness and funds to cure children's cancer by supporting cancer research and fellowships. … Entering Friday's match against the Carolina Hurricanes, Lightning goalie Karri Ramo had made two consecutive starts, posting a 0-1-1 record with a .921 save percentage.

Contact Mike Morreale at

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