For the second consecutive night, it was a task he handled with near perfection on Saturday at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Garon made 24 saves and Steven Stamkos chipped in two goals and an assist, as the Bolts defeated the Florida Panthers 5-1 to sweep a home and home series and take four points from their division rival while also picking up its second straight win.
“It was huge,” Stamkos said of the win. “I think we’re hot right now, so for us to come in and take two straight games from them is definitely a huge step in the right direction.”
Tom Pyatt’s first goal as a member of the Lightning at 3:49 of the second period gave Garon all the support he needed, padding the Tampa Bay lead to two after Martin St. Louis notched the game’s first goal just 2:07 following the opening puck drop.
Garon made the lead stand up, making 10 stops in each of the first two frames before the defense in front of him limited the Panthers to just two shots on goal through the first 14 minutes of the third. He made four stops alone on former Lightning wing Sean Bergenheim in the first period.
Tampa Bay outshot Florida 34-25 throughout the contest.
The victory, coupled with Saturday’s regulation loss by the division-rival Capitals at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres, closed the gap to just four points between the Lightning and the Southeast-leading Panthers.
“These past two games were really important, and these four points have been good for us,” Garon added. “We played physical and our system was pretty much perfect. I think we executed the game plan that was asked by our coach and that’s how we’re going to be successful.”
Tampa Bay, winners in all but three meetings at home this season, earned its second consecutive win over its division rivals in as many nights. The clubs squared off just 24 hours earlier in Sunrise, where the Bolts took a 2-1 victory in overtime to open up the first game of a back-to-back home and home series.
Jakob Markstrom, appearing in just his sixth game all season, stopped 29 of 34 shots for Florida, who has now lost two straight after having its three-game win streak snapped by Tampa Bay on Friday night in Sunrise.
St. Louis opened the scoring just over two minutes in with his 300th career goal in a Lightning uniform, beating Markstrom down low to finish off a tap-in on Brett Connolly’s pass through the crease.
Pyatt then doubled the lead at 3:49 of the second.
The Lightning winger first stole the puck within the Panthers’ defensive zone, made a nifty move around defenseman Erik Gudbranson, and lifted a backhand right beneath the crossbar to make it 2-0.
The Lightning advantage increased to three after Stamkos’ tip-in at 6:02 of the middle frame.
He helped set up Tampa Bay’s fourth goal just 4:33 later after taking the puck at center ice and flying through the neutral zone. He put an initial shot on net, which was blocked by Markstrom, but Malone was right there to bury the rebound for a 4-0 lead.
Tampa Bay gave the penalty kill unit plenty of work in the game by providing the Panthers with six power play opportunities, but killed them all.
“We have a lot of excuses,” Florida head coach Kevin Dineen said. “But we got outplayed and the score shows how the game played out.”
Florida’s lone goal came while even strength courtesy of Shawn Matthias with 2:17 to go in regulation, spoiling Garon’s second shutout bid of the season and the 21st of his career. The Lightning net minder mishandled the puck behind his own net, allowing Matthias to bury an easy chance into an open cage to cut the deficit to three.
Stamkos’ second of the night capped the scoring at 19:01. His 14th of the season moved him into second place among all NHL goal scorers, two behind league leader Phil Kessel with 16.
“We just won two pretty big games against a pretty good hockey team,” Lightning center Nate Thompson said. “I think we played the way we needed to play and we stuck to our game plan. Tonight we played a full 60 minutes, which I don’t think we’ve done in a long time. It’s a good feeling.”