The Tampa Bay Lightning built a two goal advantage after one period, but were unable to sustain it, as they fell to the Florida Panthers tonight, 4-3, at the St. Pete Times Forum.
The 17, 217 fans in attendance expected to see one hockey game, but they actually saw two distinct games; the first dominated by the Lightning and the second which favored the Panthers, and the second game was the one that won out in the end.
The Lightning burst out of the gate and had their cross-state rivals back on their heels, finally opening the scoring at 4:37 when Vincent Lecavalier got his stick on a shot heading for the Panther net and redirected it past Florida netminder Craig Anderson. The goal was a team-leading number 19 on the season for Lecavalier, with assists to Matt Smaby and Vaclav Prospal.
With Panther defenseman Jay Bouwmeester off the ice for hooking, Tampa Bay made the man-advantage work in their favor when, at 13:36, Prospal picked up a rebound of a shot by Martin St. Louis and moved around Anderson for the second goal of the night and his 10th of the season. Lecavalier picked up his second point of the night with an assist on the power play score.
By the time Prospal scored, Tampa Bay was in the midst of holding Florida to what would eventually be a stretch of over 10 minutes without a shot on the Lightning net. At 17:55, Panther forward Gregory Campbell would break the shot-less streak with a goal from the low slot that Tampa goaltender Mike Smith couldn’t block.
The goal brought the Panthers back to within one goal, 2-1, but the Lightning regained the two-goal advantage just 51 seconds later, at 18:46, when Ryan Malone charged the net, picked up a loose puck just outside the crease and backhanded a shot past Anderson.
The goal was a milestone for Malone, his 100th score of his career, and his 13th goal of the season. He was assisted by St. Louis and Andrej Meszaros.
As an impressive first period for the Lightning came to an end, the Bolts led 3-1 and had the shot advantage, 11-4.
In an effort to rally his team, Panther coach Peter DeBoer closed the book on Anderson and replaced him with Tomas Vokoun as the second period got underway.
The second period began well for the Lightning as the defense clamped down and they again held the Panthers without a shot until the six minutes had ticked off the clock, but at that point it appeared as if the ice had tilted in favor of the visitors.
Once Lightning defenseman Matt Smaby was penalized for hooking at 6:12, the momentum swung to the visiting Panthers.
Veteran Panther forward Cory Stillman collected a miscued Panther shot and directed it past Smith for his tenth goal of the season. The power play score cut the Lightning lead to 3-2.
At 10:58, Richard Zednik found the puck at his side of the net while Smith was sprawled on the opposite side, trying to freeze the play. Once the puck squirted to Zednik, he slipped it into the open side of the net and the game was tied at 3-3.
The Lightning were unable to stem the 2nd period surge the Panthers were generating and when Evengy Artyukhin was whistled for tripping at 19:33, the Panthers ran their power play total for the contest to two goals on two chances as Bouwmeester blasted a shot past Smith with only a fraction of a second remaining in the second period.
“Obviously, in the last minute of a period, you don’t want to let a goal in,” interim coach Rick Tocchet said. “It was a huge goal for them.”
So huge, in fact, that Tampa Bay never recovered and although they peppered Vokoun with 13 shots in the final period while holding the Panthers to only four, the Lightning never was able to producing the tying goal.
“We started the game great. We didn’t give them anything in the first period,” Lightning forward Vaclav Prospal said. “We built a lead and then let it slip, and that can’t happen to us. especially against a cross-state rival.”
But happen it did, and the Lightning will live with it until they get a chance to put the disappointment behind them and get back on the winning track, when they host the Dallas Stars on Monday.
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Martin St. Louis
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Martin St. Louis