PITTSBURGH — Steven Stamkos isn’t going anywhere. Not this season at least.
If the Tampa Bay Lightning star is concerned about his long-term future, it certainly doesn’t show.
The Tampa Bay captain tapped in a rebound for his 300th goal on Saturday as the Lightning quieted surging Pittsburgh 4-2.
Stamkos joined Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis as the only players in franchise history to reach the 300-goal plateau when he knocked in a rebound off Alex Killorn’s shot just past the midway point in the first period.
“It’s pretty special,” Stamkos said. “First of all, it means you’ve around for awhile and secondly, I’ve been fortunate to play with a lot of good players. I’ve been able to be put in positions to score goals and obviously it was special coming in a big win for our team.”
Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman announced last week the Lightning would hold on to Stamkos past the Feb. 29 trade deadline even with the two-time Maurice Richard Trophy winner in the final months of a deal that pays him about $5.5 million this season.
Stamkos is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in July and will likely get a massive bump in pay. The Lightning remain optimistic Stamkos will stick around.
And while it has scuffled at times this season coming off a run to the Stanley Cup finals last spring, Tampa Bay put an end to Pittsburgh’s momentum by beating the Penguins on the road in the regular season for the first time since Nov. 12, 2010.
Anton Stralman, Matthew Carle and Tyler Johnson also scored for Tampa Bay. Ben Bishop finished with 37 saves, including a couple during a 5-on-3 Pittsburgh power play late in the second period that preserved a two-goal advantage.
“We got the lead and played defence and that was pretty much it,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
Tom Kuhnhackl picked up the first NHL goal of his career for Pittsburgh. Scott Wilson added his second in as many games, but the Penguins went 0 for 4 on the power play and couldn’t rally after spotting Tampa Bay three early goals.
Jeff Zatkoff stopped 16 of 20 shots while making an impromptu start when Marc-Andre Fleury became ill during pregame. Fleury gave Zatkoff a heads up early Saturday he wasn’t feeling well, though Zatkoff refused to blame the loss on getting short notice he was going to play.
“That’s my role,” Zatkoff said after just his fourth appearance since Jan. 1. “That’s my job to be able to come in and give the team a chance and to give him a night off. Unfortunately we didn’t get it done. I didn’t get it done tonight.”
The Lightning moved two points ahead of the Penguins in the jumbled Eastern Conference race thanks in part to Stamkos and a little puck luck. Three of Tampa Bay’s four goals started as seemingly harmless shots from the point.
Pittsburgh’s Kevin Porter rang a shot off the crossbar midway through the first period, and 13 seconds later Stralman’s floater from the point found its way through a sea of bodies for his ninth of the season 9:08 into the game.
Stamkos doubled the lead just over two minutes later in one of the easier goals of his All-Star career. Killorn’s shot from outside the left circle clanged off the left post and scooted across the crease to Stamkos, who had little trouble flipping it into the open net.
“I’ve got to try and find a way to find one of those,” Zatkoff said. “I felt like if I was seeing it, I was stopping it. I’ve got to battle a little harder, try and get those ones from the point.”
Kuhnhackl gave Pittsburgh some momentum when his short-handed breakaway ended with a backhand past Bishop for the 24-year-old’s first goal in his 17th NHL game.
Tampa Bay got two more past Zatkoff, who didn’t see Carle’s slap shot from near the blue line and had no chance when Johnson tapped in a centring pass from Ondrej Palat.
Wilson put in a rebound to get the Penguins within two with just under four minutes left in the second, but Pittsburgh squandered a 5-on-3 at the end of the period and generated little over the final 20 minutes to lose in regulation for only the second time in its past 13 games at Consol Energy Center.
NOTES: Penguins C Evgeni Malkin missed his seventh straight game with a lower body injury. … Pittsburgh D Ben Lovejoy left with an upper body injury and won’t play on Sunday when the Penguins travel to Buffalo. … Tampa Bay went 0 for 5 on the power play. The Penguins have killed 19 straight penalties. … Penguins star Sidney Crosby was held scoreless while drawing two penalties.