Stamkos received encouragement from Esposito on his way to 500 goals

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“I texted Steven and said, ‘Don’t worry if you’re going to make it to 500, you will. It’s just a matter of time,'” Esposito said Thursday from Tampa.

That moment came Wednesday, as Stamkos notched numbers 500, 501 and 502 in a 5-2 win at the Vancouver Canucks.

Stamkos became the 47th player in NHL history to score 500 goals. He joined the Washington Capitals captain alex ovechkin (810) and captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins sidney crosby (528) as the third active player to reach the milestone, the 23rd in history to do so with an NHL team.

“I told Steven, ‘Keep trying to play the best you can. The better you play, the more chances you’ll get. And keep throwing the puck,'” Esposito said of his messages of encouragement.

steven stamkos with teammate Victor Hedman In the Tampa Bay Lightning’s locker room on Wednesday, Stamkos scored goals 500, 501 and 502 against the Vancouver Canucks. Courtesy of Tampa Bay Lightning

Stamkos’ three-goal streak against the Canucks was his 11th career hat trick in 965 regular season games.

Esposito, a co-founder of the Lightning franchise who is now a radio analyst for their home games, had 32 hat-tricks between 1967-79 for the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, 36 counting the postseason. He played 1,282 games for the Chicago Black Hawks, Bruins and Rangers from 1963 to 1981, en route to his 1984 Hall of Fame induction.

It took Esposito six games to go from 490 to 500 in his career, scoring his 500 on December 22, 1974, in his 803rd game. He would retire in 1981 with 717 goals and 873 assists; when he hung up his skates, only Gordie Howe had more goals and points.

Stamkos reaching 500 goals “was inevitable,” Esposito said of the explosive center, who has played his entire career with Tampa Bay.

Steven Stamkos and Phil Esposito at Amalie Arena following a ceremonial showdown on October 6, 2017. Scott Audette/Getty Images

“He responded to my message about throwing the puck saying, ‘Thanks a lot Phil, I get it. Sometimes I get carried away trying to be a good teammate,'” Esposito said.

“I texted him and said, ‘Scorers are selfish. If you’re going to be a good scorer, sometimes you have to be. You don’t want to be selfish, but you’re a shooter.’ ‘

“I told him: ‘You’ve always been a shooter, that’s your modus operandi. Think of you as a junior, the year you came to the League (2008-09), the year you scored 60 goals (2011-12). Look how many shots into the net you had then (an NHL career high 303).'”

As the man who helped bring the Lightning to life, Esposito takes pride in the fact that Stamkos has been with the team since he was the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NHL Draft. There was enormous speculation that he would try free agency. unrestricted on July 1, 2016, but signed an eight-year deal with the Lightning two days earlier to stay.

Steven Stamkos in a portrait from the 2008 NHL Draft. fake images

“I’m excited to move forward with Lightning today for the next eight years,” Stamkos said at the time. “It’s not often that a player gets the opportunity to spend his career in one organization and I’m hopeful this deal puts me on that path with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Most importantly, I look forward to working with my teammates, coaches and our management in our goal of winning a Stanley Cup.”

Sure enough, there were back-to-back championships in 2020 and 2021.

“Steven is the face of the Lightning, there’s no question about that,” Esposito said. “People make a big fuss because he stayed here instead of signing somewhere else when he had a chance to move.

“My take is, why would you want to go anywhere else when you can make as much money through the tax system here (in Florida) as you can anywhere else, and you’re the king?

Phil Esposito scores his 273rd career goal, beating Toronto goaltender Bernie Parent on April 3, 1971, the first of his two goals that night. Graphic Artists/Hockey Hall of Fame

“Your family can go to the grocery store after you’ve had a bad game and not be bothered. Tampa is a tremendous hockey market, but I feel sorry for the guys who play in Toronto and Montreal. They get recognized all the time.” , wherever they go, especially now in Toronto. The Maple Leafs are a very good team that I think absolutely should be considered one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.”

The Lightning left Vancouver immediately after Wednesday’s game and flew to Edmonton for Thursday’s game against the Oilers (9 pm ET; ESPN, SNW, SN NOW).

Esposito was back on his phone before noon Thursday to send a congratulatory text to Stamkos, who could have been sleeping as of 9 a.m. MT.

“I sent Steven a text because I’m so happy for him,” Esposito said.

Then with a laugh:

“I know it was early, but Steven’s a nice guy. If he was a (jerk), I wouldn’t have bothered.”

Top photo: Tampa Bay Lightning players and staff gather around Steven Stamkos in his locker room in Vancouver on Wednesday night to celebrate their captain’s 500th career goal. Courtesy of Tampa Bay Lightning

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