-- On the night their team was officially eliminated from the playoff race, Lightning fans still had something to celebrate as Steven Stamkos
set an NHL single-season record with his fifth overtime goal, giving Tampa Bay a 3-2 victory against the Winnipeg Jets
Stamkos' goal came 45 seconds into the extra period when he one-timed a pass from Brian Lee
and beat Ondrej Pavelec
from the left circle for his League-high 56th goal of the season.
"When you think of how long the NHL has been around, to have a record to call my own, at least for now, is amazing," Stamkos said. "Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought about scoring this many goals in a season and setting a record for the most overtime goals. Obviously I'd have loved to do this in a season where we were competing for a Stanley Cup."
But for Tampa Bay, the Stanley Cup dream is over for this season -- a major disappointment for a team that was one win away from the Final last spring.
Still, that didn't stop the Lightning from putting together a strong comeback effort and an especially formidable third period, in which Tampa Bay outshot the Jets 21-7; the most shots the Lightning have had in one period this season.
, making his first start in the NHL since Nov 10, 2006, stopped 26 shots for the win.
scored both Lightning goals in regulation, bringing his season total to 20. He has five goals in his last two games and 20 points in his last 23.
Malone opened the scoring late in the first period when he flipped the puck over Winnipeg defenseman Grant Clitsome
, collected it inside the Jets' blue line and beat Pavelec.
"That took 'dump and chase' to a new level," Stamkos said. "I don't know if he's been practicing his golf game lately, but that looked like a nice 60-degree wedge."
After Malone got the Lightning on the board, Winnipeg came back with two second-period goals 3:08 apart. Antti Miettinen
scored from the slot off a pass from Evander Kane
6:20 into the period. Kyle Wellwood
then gave Winnipeg the lead with a rebound goal at 9:28.
Malone's second goal, on the power play, knotted the score at 2-2 and set the stage for Stamkos' heroics. That was the only power-play goal that Tampa Bay could manage despite having eight extra-man opportunities, a season high.
The teams combined for 66 minutes in penalties, including third-period scraps between Jets captain Andrew Ladd
and Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman
-- and Jets defenseman Ron Hainsey
, who fought Malone after Hainsey dumped Martin St. Louis
hard into the boards behind Winnipeg's net.
"Malone was our best player tonight," Stamkos said. "Not only did he get two goals but he stuck up for Marty and fought and did everything. He was the guy everyone looked up to tonight."
The overtime loss also eliminated Winnipeg (36-35-8) from playoff contention.
"There's too much emotion in this game," coach Claude Noel said. "I can't even think past this game and the disappointment of it."
With four games remaining in the season, the only lingering suspense for Tampa Bay (36-35-7) is whether Stamkos can become the first NHL player to reach 60 goals in a season since Alex Ovechkin had 65 in 2007-08.
"Sixty goals is attainable, but to honest with you, I don't care," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "As long as he keeps scoring the winning goal, the number doesn't make him better or worse."
Still, for Stamkos, the pursuit is hard to ignore.
"It's tough not to think about it when I get asked about it every day," Stamkos said. "If it happens, it happens. I'm not going to press. I just want to finish the year as strong as I can and help the team win as many games as possible so we can have some fun down the stretch."