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Stamkos hits 50, gets shootout winner for Lightning

by John Kreiser

Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos put the puck in the net three times on Saturday. The first two made him the third-youngest player ever to reach the 50-goal mark. The third won the game.

Stamkos became the second player this season to reach the 50-goal mark when he scored his second of the game in the second period of the Lightning's game against the Florida Panthers. he capped his night with the lone goal of the shootout to give the Bolts a 4-3 win.

Stamkos' father was in attendance, adding to the excitement of the night for the 20-year-old.

"He sent me a text a couple of weeks ago just telling me to stay focused," Stamkos said about his father. "My emotions were running when it went in and he was in the stands. It was pretty special. They can never take that away from you."

Stamkos got No. 49 when he beat Florida goaltender Scott Clemmensen 4:11 into the game with a blast from the top of the left circle for a power-play goal. No. 50 came 5:28 into the second period on a long wrist shot through traffic that went through Clemmensen's legs for another power-play goal -- his League-high 24th of the season.

Stamkos was mobbed by his teammates as the announced crowd of 17,050 at the St. Pete Times Forum roared its approval.

"I'm sure a lot of the guys were passing up opportunities and were trying to get the puck to me," Stamkos said. "I want to thank them for that. It was pretty special to do it on home ice in a win."

The second goal gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead, and Martin St. Louis gave Tampa Bay a two-goal advantage when he scored at 10:24. But Michael Frolik got one back for the Panthers 1:22 later and Nathan Horton scored on a shorthanded breakaway while shorthanded with 11:52 to play.

"Once we stopped taking penalties and started moving our feet...I thought we played a good second and third period," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said.

Although it won't count toward his season total, Stamkos then added the only goal in the shootout. Antero Niittymaki stopped all three Florida shooters for the win.

Stamkos is only the second player in Lightning history to score 50 goals in a season. Vincent Lecavalier had a team-record 52 in 2006-07.

"In between the second and third, Vinny came up to me and said, 'Welcome to the club,"' Stamkos said. "That was pretty special to be able to hear that."

Stamkos, the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, had 23 goals and 46 points in his rookie season. He became the third-youngest player to reach the 50-goal mark, behind only Los Angeles' Jimmy Carson (55 in 1987-88, 19 years and 8 months) and Wayne Gretzky (51 in 1979-80, 19 years and 2 months). Stamkos is 20 years and 2 months old.

Stamkos tied Washington's Alex Ovechkin, who scored twice on Friday night to become the first player to reach the 50-goal mark this season. Both are one goal ahead of Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy, awarded to the NHL leader in goals.

Crosby and the Penguins lost 1-0 at Atlanta on Saturday night. Ovechkin and the Capitals had the night off.

All three players are in action Sunday -- Ovechkin and the Capitals host Boston, Crosby and the Penguins visit the New York Islanders and Stamkos and the Lightning visit Florida in the back end of a home-and-home series.

Stamkos has been one of the few bright spots for TampaBay team that won't be in the playoffs.

"I don't want to put pressure on him, the one thing I think is that he's emerging as a leader," coach Rick Tocchet said. "He expects this of himself. That's what I like about him, that he is willing to do the work."

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