All Mike Smith has to do to prove himself as a No.1 goaltender is to perform like he did on Saturday night.
Smith stopped 20 of 21 shots in his second consecutive start in as many nights, as the Lightning concluded the 2010 preseason with their second straight win, a 4-1 victory over the division-rival Panthers.
Steven Stamkos scored twice, including once with the man advantage, and Vincent Lecavalier added a power-play goal for the Lightning, which ended the exhibition season with a 4-1-1 record. Stamkos, Lecavalier and right wing Martin St. Louis finished with two points each to lead all skaters.
The win also helped Tampa Bay move to 5-0-0 in the second half of preseason games on back-to-back nights, a record dating back to the 2008 exhibition season.
Smith allowed the lone Florida goal to Mike Santorelli at 13:51 in the first period, but was otherwise perfect, shutting down the Panthers for the remaining 46 minutes of regulation.
“We got what we wanted in the first period,” Florida head coach Peter DeBoer said. “If that game ended right there we would have been happy. Then they cranked it up and we didn’t respond when they raised their level.”
Tampa Bay countered with a scoring flurry following the game’s opening goal, striking three times in under five minutes to take a 3-1 lead midway through the second period.
Stamkos scored on the power play at 9:20, nearly two minutes after taking a Steve Downie pass through the slot and chipping it over Panthers goaltender Jacob Markstrom to give the Lightning a one-goal lead. The goal came just under three minutes after Lecavalier evened the score at 4:32 after skating through the right circle and wristing one stick-side over the glove of the Panthers net minder.
“They have a high-powered offense,” Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson said. “That was a good team at the other end, but we dominated them the first period, so it was really unfortunate.”
Sean Bergenheim capped the scoring in the third period to make it 4-1. With the puck loose around the boards, Lightning center Eric Perrin made a centering pass from behind the net to Bergenheim, who slapped it home from one knee at 7:44.
“I think we are going to be a hard team to play against,” St. Louis said. “We have a long way to go, but in terms of the steps you have to take from training camp to an exhibition game, I think we have taken that step.”
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