TAMPA, Fla. (CBSDC/AP) Mike Green returned after missing 18 games, but it was Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning who stole the show.
Stamkos scored his NHL-leading 40th goal of the season, and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Washington Capitals 2-1 on Saturday night.
The 22-year old Stamkos became the first Tampa Bay player to have three consecutive seasons of at least 40 goals when he scored 1:50 into the second period. The center stole an errant pass at the Lightning blue line and made a nifty stick-handling move during a breakaway to beat goalie Tomas Vokoun and give the Lightning a 2-0 lead.
“It’s nice,” Stamkos said. “You kind of set some personal goals before the season. To get that again in a big win at this time of year just makes it even more special.”
Tampa Bay, 11th in the Eastern Conference, is six points behind Toronto for the final playoff spot in the East. Despite trading center Dominic Moore and defenseman Pavel Kubina for draft picks and minor league left wing Jon Kalinski in a three-day span, the Lightning have won two in a row.
“The only thing that we know right now is we can’t control what goes on with management,” Stamkos said. “They have a plan. Just because there’s been a couple trades doesn’t mean that we’re going to stop playing with that winning mentality that we all know.”
Stamkos has nine game-winning goals this season, breaking the team record he set in 2010-11.
“It shows consistency and desire, and he’s got that,” Tampa Bay right wing Martin St. Louis said of Stamkos.
Tom Pyatt also scored, and Mathieu Garon made 23 saves for the Lightning.
Capitals Mike Green was back in the lineup after missing 18 games because of an abdominal injury. “It took some time in the first period to get my feel back, but I felt really good,” said Green, who played 14:14. “After I got going in the first period, going into the second and third, I felt better.”
Brooks Laich had the lone goal for the Capitals, who snapped a three-game skid with a 2-1 road win over the Florida Panthers on Friday.
“It’s a loss, but you have to move on,” Laich said. “The group wants to win. It’s not going to go away.”
With a win, Washington would have tied the Panthers – who have one game at hand – for first place in the Southeast Division.
Stamkos had a career-high 51 goals in the 2009-10 season and scored 45 times last season. He has three goals and two assists in his last two games.
“We made a couple of mistakes, especially in the second period against that line with Stamkos and St. Louis,” Washington left wing Alex Ovechkin said. “When they have a chance to score, they’re going to score.”
Ovechkin had four shots on goal, and hit the post with another drive.
Laich cut Washington’s deficit to 2-1 with an in-close redirection at 9:31 of the second. It was his first goal in eight games.
Pyatt put the Lightning up 1-0 on a rebound goal 2:10 into the game.
Vokoun finished with 21 saves.
“We want to win,” Vokoun said. “This was a winnable game, and we didn’t get it done. I don’t think anybody can be happy about that. We played the game to the strength of the other team and we got beat.”