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Stamkos ties Lecavalier atop Lightning goals list, wants Stanley Cup most

Center more complete player than ever for NHL leaders in 11th season

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

DETROIT -- Steven Stamkos looked forward as much as he looked back after he scored the 383rd goal of his NHL career, tying Vincent Lecavalier for first in Tampa Bay Lightning history.

"Hopefully a lot more to come," Stamkos said after a 5-4 win against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on Thursday. "That's the thing I'm excited about, is just to keep growing with this group that we have.

"It's just crazy to think. When you have a record like that, it means you've been around for a long time. Sometimes it just doesn't feel like it's been … almost 11 complete years now."

That's the best part about this.

Stamkos, the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, is tied with his former teammate and mentor, whose No. 4 hangs in the rafters in Amalie Arena as his No. 91 will someday.

Yet he is 29. The center reached 383 goals in 735 games, 302 games fewer than Lecavalier played for Tampa Bay. He doesn't feel like an old man.

"Well, some mornings, I do," Stamkos said with a smile. "That's for sure. There's no denying that. But I definitely don't feel it when I come to the rink and I'm surrounded by the people … every day here in this organization. So it's just a lot of fun to play hockey right now."

Stamkos has 81 points (35 goals, 46 assists) and is on pace for 93 points, his most since 2011-12, when he set NHL career highs in goals (60) and points (97) and won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the League goal-scoring champion for the second time.

He's healthy and confident after overcoming major injuries. He's also more of a leader and complete player than ever before.

As the captain, he sets an example in practice, starting drills with a jump, executing the finest details. He speaks up in meetings, in the locker room and on the bench.

Video: TBL@DET: Stamkos ties Lecavalier with 383rd goal

On the penalty kill, he takes the draws on the right side, his strong side.

"You can see when there's a face-off on that side in that situation, he's up and over the boards almost before [coach Jon Cooper] says anything," assistant Jeff Halpern said after practice Wednesday.

He relishes it. He'll protect leads, block shots, whatever it takes, because goals are not the goal.

"It's something I've tried to focus on since I came into this league," Stamkos said after practice Wednesday. "You come in, and you're excited to get points and get goals and things like that. The face-offs, the defensive responsibility, that kind of isn't high on the radar. But as you mature …

"I've played with some really good role models in terms of that, and you see how hard it is to win and the style of play that you have to win."

Stamkos has played 66 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has been to the Stanley Cup Final and lost in six games (to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015). He has been to the Eastern Conference Final twice and lost in seven (to the Boston Bruins in 2011 and to the Washington Capitals last season) -- three times, if you include 2016, when he missed all but a Game 7 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Now the Lightning have a chance to break through. At 54-13-4 with 112 points, they lead the second-place San Jose Sharks by 18 points in the NHL standings and are on pace to be one of the best regular-season teams ever. 

They have forward Nikita Kucherov, who leads the League with 115 points (35 goals, 80 assists), already the most anyone has had since Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby had 120 (36 goals, 84 assists) in 2006-07. They have depth. They have a mix of youth and experience.

"This opportunity has been here for a few years," Stamkos said after practice Wednesday. "We haven't accomplished what we've set out to yet. The regular season is great to have success. It builds confidence. It builds a winning attitude in this room, and you find different ways to win. But we're focused on the playoffs. I mean, that's something where we want to thrive, so we want to finish this last stretch …"

He paused.

"Everyone's talking about records and comparing us to different teams," he said. "Well, it's the regular season. That's just not the goal that's associated with this group inside this room."

Records are great. Rings are better.

"You come to this franchise and you come to this league to win a championship," Stamkos said after tying Lecavalier. "All the other stuff is fantastic. It's something you look back on at the end of your career, I think, when it's all said and done. But everything is based around championships, and that's what we want to do here."

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