TAMPA - Dwayne Roloson saved his best for last, while for Steven Stamkos, the best is yet to come.
The veteran goalie and the young superstar enabled the Tampa Bay Lightning to end their home schedule on a positive note Monday with a 4-2 victory against division-rival Washington in front of an announced sellout crowd of 19,204 at The Forum. The Lightning won their 25th home game of the season to tie a franchise record.
Stamkos scored the game-winner with 63 seconds remaining and then added an empty-net goal with two seconds left to lift his total to 58 on the season, the second-highest goal total by anyone in the league since 1996.
With two goals in the final three games, Stamkos can become just the second player in 16 years to reach the 60-goal plateau.
Roloson, who has battled through a difficult season, was stellar in goal. He made 31 saves, including a candidate for save of the year in the second period that kept Tampa Bay in the game.
Tampa Bay, which came within a victory of reaching the Stanley Cup finals a season ago, was able to put a dent in Washington's playoff hopes.
"It's nice to be able to get a win in our final home game of the year in front of our fans who have supported us all year, especially against Washington, who I know the fans here love to hate and hate to love," Roloson said. "For us to come in and play the way we did tonight was definitely exciting and give them a little bit of a playoff atmosphere."
Roloson took first star honors on the night with perhaps his best outing of the season. It was accented by a sliding glove save to rob Mike Green, who cut down the right slot and took an Alex Ovechkin feed. Roloson pushed across his crease to get his glove in the way and preserve a 1-0 deficit at 15:48 of the second period.
"That is one of the best saves I have seen live in a game in my career," Stamkos said. "Everyone on their bench, on our bench thought it was a goal and I'm sure Green thought it was a goal, too. (Roloson) doesn't give up. That was an unbelievable save."
It allowed the Lightning to strike quickly with two goals in a span of 25 seconds. Teddy Purcell scored on a power play at 17:20, followed on the next shift by a Victor Hedman one-timer from the left point that found its way through traffic and past a Tom Pyatt screen for his career-best fifth goal at 17:45.
The lead held until late in the third when Jason Chimera found a rebound with 3:17 left that helped set up the late-game heroics from Stamkos. With Tampa Bay pressing and looking for the regulation victory, Stamkos parked himself at the top of the crease and was in the right spot to put in Brett Clark's point shot for his 12th game-winning goal of the season.
"He doesn't end up being there, he goes there, he goes to the net, he drives and he pays the price there," Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. "It's not just skill, it's a willingness to do the dirty work, around the net and near the net, that's where it hurts the most. People don't realize, but players get cross-checked, slashed, get sticks in the face. And if you did that to people in the streets you would go to prison.
"So not everybody wants to do that shift in and shift out, but he does and he gets the results that go with it. So he deserves everything that he is getting right now."
For Roloson, after battling through a difficult year, it was an opportunity at a small piece of redemption in what might be the last home game with the Bolts for the 42-year-old goaltender.
"The whole idea was to get Roli in the last home game and I thought it was great that we were playing Washington, reminiscing about what we did last year when they had a hard time with them," Boucher said. "I was hoping that he was going to get exactly that, one of those nights where he could remember. Hearing the people chant for him at the end, I think that's a thank you for what he did last year and the performance of a man who is going to be 43. It's pretty impressive and I'm happy for him."
Tampa Bay Lightning