MONTREAL -- Toronto Maple Leafs fans joined a rather exclusive club on Tuesday.
When fans at Air Canada Centre decided to boo Tampa Bay Lightning center and native son Steven Stamkos for spurning the Maple Leafs' overtures and forsaking unrestricted free agency to re-sign with the team that drafted him, it was the second time he can remember ever being treated like that in an NHL arena.
Stamkos is not known for being a villain in visiting rinks. Still, it's mildy surprising he remembers when he was last booed in the NHL and why.
"I got booed in Winnipeg a little bit," Stamkos said on Wednesday at Bell Centre, where the Lightning play the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; SN360, RDS, SUN, NHL.TV). "I think I got high-sticked and they didn't think I got high-sticked and we got a 5-on-3 and we scored, so they started booing me. Then I scored my 60th [goal in another game] and then they gave me a standing ovation. Then I didn't know what to expect when I went there. It's probably, other than junior, the only time in the NHL that I got booed."
Video: TBL@TOR: Stamkos opens the scoring with an early goal
The game he was referring to was played on Nov. 14, 2011, and Stamkos did indeed draw a high-sticking penalty on Winnipeg Jets forward Alexander Burmistrov at 17:31 of the second period to give the Lightning a 5-on-3 power play. The only part Stamkos got wrong was that the Lightning did not score on that power play and ultimately lost the game 5-2, though Stamkos did score the Lightning's final goal at 10:26 of the third period.
Stamkos scored his 60th goal of the 2011-12 season, a career high, in Winnipeg on April 7, 2012, at 3:29 of the second period. It's one that Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman remembered distinctly as well.
"I think he got [booed] in Winnipeg too before he scored his 60th," Hedman said. "But then he got a standing ovation."
Of course, the booing did not work out too well for Maple Leafs fans; Stamkos scored on his first shift at 1:19 of the first period and finished with two goals and two assists in Tampa Bay's 7-3 win.
"I think they stopped after I scored the second one last night," Stamkos said with a grin.
Having had some time to think about it since the game Tuesday, Stamkos was able to see the positive in being booed so close to his hometown of Markham, Ontario, in the Toronto suburbs, even with the family and friends who are always in the stands when he plays at Air Canada Centre.
Video: TBL@TOR: Stamkos rips a one-timer past Andersen
"It's kind of the ultimate sign of respect when people are going out of their way to do something," Stamkos said. "When you hear boos, it's kind of fun. You don't see it a lot. You want to do something with that. It's not something I want to make a habit, but it worked out last night."
The quirk in the Lightning's NHL schedule is that Stamkos goes from one team that made a free agent pitch to him to another, with the Canadiens next on the schedule.
The Canadiens reportedly made a very serious pitch to Stamkos and his representatives from Newport Sports during the free agency interview period prior to the opening of the market on July 1. Stamkos chuckled when it was mentioned to him that he appears to be doing a tour of the teams he met with before signing an eight-year, $68 million contract with the Lightning on June 29.
So will Stamkos be booed by the Bell Centre faithful Thursday for spurning the Canadiens as well? If they want their team to win, it probably wouldn't be a good idea.
"I don't see why they would, but you never know," Stamkos said. "But hopefully, if they do I can continue to keep producing and help the team win, because it worked last night."