It's the Battle of Florida between the Bolts and the Cats tonight. The teams take the ice to finish up their season series. Each team has collected six points so far, and tonight will prove to be the tiebreaker. It is Martin St. Louis' 900th career game.
Just 1:37 into the game the Lightning opened up the scoring when Nate Thompson pounced on a loose puck in the neutral zone and put it through Scott Clemmensen's five hole, unassisted for his seventh goal of the season.
At the four minute mark, Tomas Fleischmann provided Florida with the equalizer for his 17th goal of the season on a nifty spin pass from Kris Versteeg to beat Mathieu Garon five-hole. Mike Weaver also earned an assist on the play.
Tampa Bay would get the first power play of the evening with three minutes left in the period when Stephen Weiss tripped Pavel Kubina. The Cats were killing it off when Steve Downie made it four-on-four, followed by a nearly full power play by hooking Matt Bradley. The Panthers were also unable to capitalize, and the teams took the locker room with 24 seconds remaining on the Panther's man advantage.
After killing off the penalty, the Lightning again took the lead on Vincent LeCavalier's 20th goal of the season at the two minute mark unassisted.
Martin St. Louis doubled the lead three minutes later by slinging the puck wide of Scott Clemmensen's stick for his 14th goal of the season. Ryan Shannon and Vincent LeCavalier assisted on the play.
Seven minutes in the Panthers cut into the Bolts lead as Mikael Samuellson gathered a rebound off of a Sean Bergenheim shot and beat an out of position Mathieu Garon for his sixth goal of the season.
Steven Stamkos stuffed his 34th goal of the season home with some perfect puck movement by Bolts Steve Downie and Victor Hedman in the Florida zone. The two set up Stamkos in front of the net with one man to beat. After a Clemmensen save he quickly stuffed it home to extend the lead back to two.
St. Louis scored his second goal of the period with five minutes remaining to put the Bolts on top, 5-2. St. Louis gathered a LeCavalier shot that went wide and tucked it past Clemmensen's left side. Ryan Shannon was also awarded an assist on the play, his second of the night. At this point, the Panthers pulled Clemmensen for rookie Brian Foster, who would see his first NHL action under less than optimal circumstances.
Sean Bergenheim cut back into the Tampa Bay lead with 45 seconds left in the period, breaking into the Lightning zone uncontested and beating Garon for his ninth goal of the season.
The Panthers went back on the power play at the four minute mark when Victor Hedman was called for hooking Tomas Fleischmann. Florida kept it in the Bolts zone for the first 1:48 of the power play, but Tampa Bay killed it anyway with good defensive positioning and shot blocking.
The Bolts had their chance to pull away at the eight minute mark when Sean Bergenheim was called for tripping Victor Hedman in the Florida zone. Aggressive forechecking by Stephen Weiss almost got the Cats a shorthanded chance. The Panthers cleared the puck out five times while allowing two shots on goal.
Florida went on the power play with three minutes to go when Tom Pyatt hooked Kris Versteeg. Kevin Dineen pulled the goalie so the Cats could have an extended six-on-four. It wasn't enough, and Versteeg would take a tripping penalty with two minutes to go.
Shorthanded, tired from the back-to-back, and out of time, the Panthers assaulted the Tampa Bay net, but Garon kept them off the scoreboard.
With 20.8 seconds left, St. Louis added his third goal of the night into an empty net for the hat trick. Assists were awarded to Steven Stamkos and Vincent LeCavalier.
Hits: Lightning, 26-19 (Eric Brewer led all skaters with five, while Keaton Ellerby and Erik Gudbranson collected three for the Panthers).
Blocked Shots: Lightning, 22-12 (Victor Hedman had five for the Lightning, Jason Garrison paced the Cats with four).
Faceoffs: Lightning, 27-23 (Nate Thompson went six-for-seven, Vincent LeCavalier was seven-for-12, and Steven Stamkos seven-for-18. Florida was led by John Madden, who won nine-of-12. Stephen Weiss won a disappointing four-of-15).
Shots on Goal: Lightning, 34-20 (Steven Stamkos led the Lightning with six, Mikael Samuelsson the Panthers with four).
Score: Lightning 6, Panthers 3