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Stamkos firing rockets, has shot at 50-goal season with Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrates after his 40th goal of the season during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Atlanta Thrashers Saturday, March 6, 2010, in Tampa, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris O'Meara

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Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrates after his 40th goal of the season during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Atlanta Thrashers Saturday, March 6, 2010, in Tampa, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris O'Meara

MONTREAL - Two one-timers, two broken panes of glass behind the net.

It's little wonder that NHL goaltenders are having so much trouble stopping Steven Stamkos' shots when even the ones that miss the net do so much damage.

The young centre for the Tampa Bay Lightning who has a good shot at a 50-goal season was two-for-two in damaging sheets of glass at a team skate Tuesday morning at the Bell Centre.

In a testament to the resilience of protective glass these days, each pane turned a milky white from the impact of Stamkos' blasts but neither shattered, even after his teammates joined in with a barrage of shots to try to finish them off.

"It was pretty funny," the 20-year-old said later. "I've never done that. I've never even seen that."

Stamkos has plenty to smile about these days.

His two-goal performance in a 6-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday gave him 40 - his goal going into the season. He eclipsed that with his 41st goal in Tampa Bay's 5-3 loss to Montreal on Tuesday.

With a month left on the 82-game schedule, the Markham., Ont., native could reach 50 goals - still a magic number in hockey - in only his second NHL campaign.

"It's going to be tough, but hopefully I can keep up the pace I'm on," he said. "But it's definitely not in the front of my mind.

"Winning the game and making the playoffs is. If I can help the team by getting 10 more that will be a bonus, but I won't go out thinking about that every night."

Former Lightning coach Barry Melrose will probably never live down his assessment of Stamkos as a rookie last season. After he was fired by the Bolts and replaced by Rick Tocchet, Melrose questioned whether Stamkos was ready for the NHL and to handle the physical play against the league's big defencemen.

Not long after, the six-foot-one, 196-pound centre found his stride and started to pump in goals at a rate that, over the past 13 months, has been matched only by the league's top two scoring stars - Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alex Ovechkin.

"It was a personal comment, everyone's entitled to their comments, but you take it to heart," said Stamkos, the first overall pick in the 2008 draft. "It's nice to have success now and prove that person wrong."

His performance has also revived 34-year-old linemate Martin St. Louis, who is gunning for a second career 100-point season after piling up 102 in 2006-07, then tailing to 83 and 80 the following two campaigns.

Stamkos was placed on a line with St. Louis late last season, just as he was catching fire, and the two have played together ever since. They started this season with Ryan Malone, but the gritty Downie has been their left winger for most of the past two months.

St. Louis, the NHL scoring leader with 94 points and league MVP in 2003-04, said the two clicked instantly.

"I think it's just the chemistry, understanding each other's game," the Montreal native said. "He's got a great shot and excellent speed.

"Speed is a big part of the game, but my vision and making plays fits right in with his shot and he's able to get open and releases the shot quickly. And he's a right-handed shot (St. Louis shoots left), so when we're side by side in the offensive zone, one of us is in position for a one-timer. So we've helped each other out."

Many wanted either or both of Stamkos and St. Louis on Canada's Olympic team, but GM Steve Yzerman and his staff deemed Stamkos too young and the five-foot-nine St. Louis too small.

"It would have been nice, but it was more disappointing that Marty didn't get an invite," said Stamkos. "I knew I had a chance but there's so many good players. I think age kind of works against you - lack of experience in big games at that elite level. It's tough, but they won so you can't really say anything about it now."

Downie is known as one of hockey's bad boys, a player with a temper who is usually in the middle of any on-ice mix-ups. The former junior star with Windsor and Peterborough in the Ontario Hockey League was a first-round pick by Philadelphia in 2005 but did little in his first two NHL seasons and was dealt to Tampa Bay in November, 2008.

Now he is skating on one of the NHL's hottest lines and is on pace not only for 200 penalty minutes, but for 20 goals as well. Stamkos considers him his best friend on the team.

"I'm not surprised with the season he's having," said Stamkos, a former Sarnia Sting. "I played against him in junior and he was always an offensive force who had that little bit of an edge to him that people respected.

"He creates room for us out there. He goes to the net and he goes into the corners. He's not afraid to fight or throw a big hit. You look a his plus-minus and he's plus-18 (best of the team). He's not a liability on defence. Also, he's been able to control his emotions, pick his spots. When he does lose it a bit it always seems to be at the right time."

Like in Atlanta, when with 7:46 left in a one-sided game, St. Louis was checked head-first into the boards by the Thrashers' recently acquired Clarke MacArthur. Downie was in the middle of the melee that followed and ended up with two minors and a misconduct.

St. Louis was wobbly as he tried to stand and had to leave the game. He didn't practise on Monday, but rode a stationary bike hard, was examined by a doctor and felt no after-effects.

That left him fit to play a 373rd consecutive game on Tuesday night against Montreal, the sixth longest current streak in the NHL.

"It was pretty scary," St. Louis said. "It wasn't the hit itself that hurt me, it was the back of my head hitting the boards.

"I remember everything. My vision and balance were pretty shaky at that time. I was trying to get away from the scrum and I had a tough time putting one foot in front of the other and fell into the net, so I decided to stay there for a bit. But once I skated off the ice, I had full balance, full everything. It took a minute or so to get back to normal, but when I skated off I was OK."

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