Lightning-Panthers Preview

In the Tampa Bay Lightning’s most recent game, Steven Stamkos

joined an elite group as one of the youngest players to record 50

goals in a season.

In the final game of the 2009-10 season, he’ll take aim at the

franchise record for goals scored.

Stamkos and the Lightning close another disappointing campaign

against the Florida Panthers on Sunday at BankAtlantic Center.

The Lightning (33-36-12) are out of the playoffs for a third

straight season, but will finish with their highest point total

since recording 93 in 2006-07.

Still, Stamkos showed the future may continue to get brighter

for Tampa Bay. With two goals in a 4-3 shootout win over Florida

(32-36-13) on Saturday he became the third-youngest player to score

50 in a season.

“It’s going to take a couple of days to sink in,” Stamkos told

the Lightning’s official Web site. “They can never take that away

from me. It was definitely a big moment in my career and hopefully

there will be a lot more.”

At 20 years, 2 months and 3 days, only Wayne Gretzky (19 years,

2 months) and Jimmy Carson had 50-goal seasons earlier than Stamkos

– the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft.

As a rookie, Stamkos got off to a very slow start before heating

up late to finish with 23 goals. Coach Rick Tocchet said he’s seen

much better things this season.

“I don’t want to put pressure on him, the one thing I think is

that he’s emerging as a leader,” Tocchet said. “He expects this of

himself. That’s what I like about him, that he is willing to do the

work.’

Stamkos, who also had the only shootout goal Saturday, is within

reach of Vincent Lecavalier’s single-season franchise mark of 52

goals set three years ago. Stamkos has five goals in the last five

games.

“In between the second and third, Vinny came up to me and said,

‘Welcome to the club,'” said Stamkos, who has four goals and two

assists against the Panthers this season. “That was pretty special

to be able to hear that.”

Stamkos helped the Lightning snap a three-game losing streak

against Florida. He was helped out by Antero Niittymaki, who made

29 saves and didn’t allow a goal in the shootout after giving up a

tying score to Nathan Horton midway through the third period.

Horton, who also assisted on goals by Stephen Weiss and Michael

Frolik, has two goals and four assists in a three-game points

streak.

Florida dropped to 2-5-2 in its last nine games as it failed to

build off Thursday’s 3-2 win over Atlantic Division champion New

Jersey.

The Panthers, who haven’t reached the playoffs since 1999-2000,

have won 15 of their last 20 at home against the Lightning, and

have taken away at least one point in the last six.