Tampa Bay survived a five-on-three shorthanded situation early in the first period but then fell victim to a shorthanded score just ten seconds into their first power play. Defenseman Victor Hedman lost his edge at the Panther blueline and forwards Kamil Kreps and Radek Dvorak broke out on a two-on-one the other way, with Dvorak finishing the play with a wrist shot past Lightning netminder Antero Nittymaki.
Six minutes later the Bolts almost had history repeat as the Panthers finished another penalty situation with a second shorthanded two-on-one attack, but this time Nittymaki moved quickly across the goal crease to stop Krep’s scoring attempt with his right pad.
The Lightning evened the score with just 88 seconds remaining in the opening period when forward Steven Stamkos connected on the Lightning’s third power play opportunity of the game. Stamkos’ 3rd goal of the season came from a quick turnaround shot from the high slot that Panther netminder Tomas Vokoun could not react to quick enough. Marty St. Louis collected his team-leading sixth assist of the season on the goal, along with an assist for Vincent Lecavalier.
The first period was even – on the scoreboard and almost on the shot board - as Tampa Bay held a slight 11-10 shot advantage after 20 minutes of play.
The second period was also closely contested, with the shots on net dividing exactly as they had in the first period, 11-10, advantage Lightning. The difference was that one of the 10 Panther shots managed to find the back of the Lightning net.
The second goal for the Panthers came while Tampa Bay was serving a bench minor penalty for too many men on the ice. Florida forward Nathan Horton, stationed in front of the Lightning net, slapped the puck past Nittymaki at 6:33 for the second Panther power play goal of the game.
Tampa Bay entered the final 20 minutes trailing by one goal, but when Kreps was sent to the penalty box at 6:57 for hooking, St. Louis cashed in Tampa Bay’s second power play goal score of the night, just 15 seconds later, when his slapshot from the right boards got behind Vokoun.
With the score knotted at two goals apiece, Nittymaki treated the crowd to a display of clutch goaltending, stoning the Panthers on a pair of point-blank shots from forwards David Booth and Bryan McCabe and, moments later, shutting down Booth again on his second breakaway of the game with a diving pad save.
“He (Booth) tried to deke me the first time he had a breakaway, so I was guessing this time that he might shoot, and he did,” Nittymaki said. “I think I had a little advantage there. I just tried to cover the net as much as possible and let it hit me, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Tampa Bay turned the play in the other direction quickly, as Stamkos picked up the rebound and went end-to-end before launching a shot on net from Vokoun’s left that the Panther netminder stopped but lost sight of. The puck sat motionless in the goal crease behind Vokoun until Ryan Malone tapped it home with just over six minutes remaining in regulation for the 3-2 lead and his 6th goal of the season and 4th over the last two games. Nittymaki also earned an assist on the score.
“I saw the puck trickling by,” Stamkos said. “I was hoping it would go in but it just sat there. Luckily, Malone did what he does best – he went to the net and tapped it in.”
Over the remaining five minutes in the third period, the Panthers threw 10 shots at the Lightning net in an all-out attempt to tie the score. One shot was blocked by Lecavalier, three missed the net, including a wrist shot by Stephen Weiss that bounced off the crossbar, and Nittymaki was there for the remaining six.
The win, Tampa Bay’s second consecutive, brought their record for the season to 2-1-2 and their six points earned in the young season has them tied for first place in the Southeast Division with the Washington Capitals.
“Nittymaki was as solid as could be,” Coach Rick Tocchet said after the game. “He was excellent.”
And that may have been an understatement. Lightning Bolts: With two assists on the night, St. Louis pulled into a tie for second place in scoring among all NHL players…Malone’s five goals on the season has him tied in second place in that category among all NHL players, one goal behind Mike Richards of Philadelphia…Tampa Bay had two power play goals on five opportunities…Nittymaki had 31 saves on 33 shots…the Bolts head for the road, meeting the Senators (3-2-0) Thursday in Ottawa.
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Martin St. Louis