At least for now, sole possession of first place in the Southeast Division belongs to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Richard Panik’s goal at 7:37 of the final period, his first in the National Hockey League, stood up as the game-winner to support a 32-save effort from Mathieu Garon as the Bolts cruised past the division-rival Carolina Hurricanes 5-2 on Saturday night at PNC Arena in Raleigh.
Both clubs entered the contest tied with each other atop the division standings with 17 points apiece before Tampa Bay opened the flood gates in the third period, scoring four times to claim a spot at the top by itself following the win.
“Obviously we knew the consequences and you’re always looking [at the standings],” forward Adam Hall said. “The focus though had to be breaking it down to what we needed to do, and the rest takes care of itself.”
Tampa Bay rebounded from a previous loss on Thursday night to the Boston Bruins to win for the third time in its past four tries. The Lightning are now 6-1-0 against Southeast Division opponents.
Carolina, meanwhile, lost its third straight.
Drayson Bowman and Chad LaRose each had goals for the Hurricanes, which also received 34 saves from goaltender Dan Ellis.
Bergeron put the Lightning out to a 1-0 lead by beating Ellis with a quick shot up high midway through the first period, but that’s how things would stand for two-thirds of the game.
Then, following 40 minutes that saw only one goal through the first two frames, the teams combined in the third to score a total of six goals to make for a back-and-forth, and exciting, high scoring affair.
Pouliot got things started when he doubled the Lightning advantage early in the third after jamming home a feed from Vincent Lecavalier at 2:11.
The two-goal lead didn’t last though, as Bowman cut the deficit back to one just 53 seconds later with a one-timer from the high slot that beat Garon cleanly.
Tampa Bay, however, got back in front by a pair thanks to Panik’s first career NHL goal at 7:37 of the final period.
After Panik’s second attempt on a backhand beat the Carolina netminder to make it 3-1 in favor of the Bolts, Pyatt then increased the Lightning’s cushion to 4-1, capping a sequence of two goals in a span of 18 seconds for Tampa Bay.
Carolina came back within two with 3:49 to go in regulation when LaRose finished of a 2-on-1 odd-man rush with Bobby Sanguinetti that made it 4-2.
It would be the final blemish on the night for Garon, who won for just the second time this season, but who gave a solid performance on Saturday night, that included a spectacular save with the pad to deny Eric Staal early on in the contest.
“I thought he was terrific tonight,” Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said of his goaltender. “He certainly deserved the win.”
Stamkos capped the scoring at 17:38 of the third while on the power play, redirecting a pass from Cory Conacher to finish off yet another nice scoring play.
“It was an important division game where we needed to establish ourselves on the road,” Lightning forward Martin St. Louis said. “We really needed to play disciplined within the structure and fight within the structure.”