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The Tampa Bay Lighting are seven points out of a playoff spot with just 13 games remaining, so a return to the postseason seems unlikely. But the Lightning can still revel in the fact that they have the NHL’s most dangerous goal scorer on their squad.
For the second time in his career, sniper Steven Stamkos hit the 50-goal mark and stretched his league lead to 12 over Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, who has a comparatively modest 38 on the season. Stamkos scored twice Monday in Tampa Bay’s 6-1 rout over Boston, marking just the 16th time since the lockout that a player has reached 50 goals in a campaign.
In fact, the majority of post-work stoppage 50-goal seasons have come from Southeast Division players. Just 10 players have reached the mark and, of the 16 occurrences, nine have been from the Southeast.
No one has more in that span than Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin, who has hit the 50-goal mark four times in his career. Stamkos is joined by two former Atlanta Thrashers as the only players to reach the half-century mark two times: Ilya Kovalchuk notched that many twice while with now-defunct Atlanta, and his former Thrashers teammate Dany Heatley also has multiple 50-goal seasons under his belt, albeit with his second team, the Ottawa Senators.
The only other players to reach 50 since the lockout are Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Anaheim’s Corey Perry, Calgary’s Jarome Iginla, Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier, then-San Jose Shark Jonathan Cheechoo, and former Ranger Jaromir Jagr. In fact, the mark has only been accomplished 190 times in the history of the NHL — a number that may seem like a lot, but when you consider 10 of them alone happened in the 1981-82 season when Wayne Gretzky set the still-standing record with 92 goals, you realize that the past decades featured ridiculously high goal scoring compared to the current-day NHL.
And for those who doubt the importance of high draft picks, consider this: 10 of the 16 50-goals seasons since 2005-06 came from first overall draft picks, and all but one of those 50-goal players were selected in the opening round. The one that wasn’t is Cheechoo, who was picked 29th overall in the second round of the 1998 Entry Draft. But who was the guy feeding him the puck? Joe Thornton, the 1997 first overall selection, who had 72 assists in just 58 games that season.
Stamkos also stands a decent shot at reaching 60 goals, which has only occurred 38 times in NHL history and just once in the 21st century when Ovechkin notched 65 in 2007-08.
Even if Stamkos doesn’t, it’s fair to say he’s in good company.
Southeast Division Notes
With Winnipeg idle, the Capitals and Panthers each widened their lead for playoff positions. Sean Bergenheim — who could be warming up again after a six-game goal drought — led the way for Florida with two goals in a 5-2 win over fast-dropping Toronto.
Washington rallied from a three-goal deficit to top the Islanders, 5-4, in the shootout. Ovechkin scored late in the second period to start the rally, then completed the comeback by tying the game at the midway point of the third. He was also one of two Capitals to score in the shootout, which was won when Matt Hendricks beat Evgeni Nabokov in the fourth round.
Florida now stands at 79 points, one ahead of the Capitals — who currently sit eighth in the Eastern Conference — for the Southeast lead. Winnipeg is now in 10th place with 72 points, two behind No. 9 Buffalo and six behind Washington, but the Jets — along with the Panthers — do hold a game in hand on each.