Once again, the Tampa Bay Lightning fell behind early on the road against the Florida Panthers.
And once again, they rallied back from a deficit to escape the BankAtlantic Center with a win.
After falling behind 3-0 in the final period back on Nov. 6 in Sunrise, the Bolts fought back for the second time in as many games against the Panthers to force overtime before Steven Stamkos gave his team a 2-1 victory on Friday night.
“It was nice,” Stamkos said. “I didn’t think I really generated much throughout most of the game, so I was glad to get that one.”
Tampa Bay trailed 1-0 entering the final 20 minutes of regulation, but got the tying goal from Vincent Lecavalier to send the contest into the extra session.
Friday’s matchup was the seventh time in the last nine meetings between the clubs to be decided either in overtime or the shootout.
After Dmitry Kulikov was sent off to the penalty box for interference, Stamkos won it in the tiebreaker by one-timing a feed from Martin St. Louis at the left circle, beating Florida goaltender Jose Theodore with 2:31 to go.
“We were lucky to get on the power play in overtime and it was nice to get one on the one-timer there,” Stamkos added. “It was a great play by Marty.”
The Panthers saw their three-game win streak come to an end, but will get another chance tomorrow as the teams face off at the St. Pete Times Forum to complete a home and home series.
“They’re a good team,” Lecavalier said. “Playing a divisional game back-to-back on two consecutive nights will be a great opportunity for us to get back above .500.”
Mathieu Garon, making his first start since Nov. 12 at St. Louis, bounced back to stop 23 of 24 shots on the night.
The game got off to a fast start with physical play that saw the Lightning hold a 7-5 shot advantage through the first 20 minutes.
“Typically they generate a lot of shots against us, so we pressured them as much as we could by not giving them a lot of time to set up,” Tampa Bay assistant coach Dan Lacroix said. “That was the key to that first period.”
The contest’s fast pace then continued into the second. Each team utilized its speed at both ends of the ice, creating a number of quality scoring chances, but both goaltenders were equal to the task.
In a rapid sequence, Theodore denied Dana Tyrell down low along the goal line before turning back an odd-man rush by Stamkos and Teddy Purcell just moments later. Garon was just as busy making key stops down in the Tampa Bay zone, including a nifty kick save with the pad.
Tomas Fleischmann opened the scoring for the Panthers and gave Florida a one-goal advantage with the game’s first tally at 7:22 of the middle frame after finishing off an odd-man rush with Stephen Weiss.
Weiss initially blocked a shot by Lightning defenseman Matt Gilroy at the right point, then found Fleischmann streaking down the right boards and wristed one that beat Garon to the near post.
“All night we were trying to just get shots on net,” Tampa Bay center Nate Thompson said. “The most important thing was to play our game, get pucks in deep and play fast. I think when we do that we’re a pretty tough team and we’re hard to beat.”
Lecavalier’s 10th of the season tied things up midway through the third to draw Tampa Bay even. After Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell mishandled the puck near the blue line, St. Louis found Lecavalier open in the slot. The Lightning captain fired one shot on goal, which was initially blocked by Theodore, but cashed in on a third attempt at 8:59.
The goal was Lecavalier’s fourth in as many games. The Lightning captain also drew the penalty on Kulikov that turned into Stamkos’ third career overtime winner.
“We definitely wanted to bounce back after that Toronto game, since we weren’t pleased with that effort,” Stamkos added. “We never gave up all game and we wanted to get back on track here, so we did."