The Lightning needed just over three periods to put the Panthers away in a hard fought hockey match in Sunrise. Steven Stamkos netted the game winner with his 12th goal of the season with assists by Marc-Andre Bergeron and Martin St. Louis. Mathieu Garon saved 24 of a possible 25 shots against the Panthers.
The game opened with Brian Campbell taking a hard one-timer from the point for the Panthers. Florida would not muster another shot on goal until there was 8 minutes remaining in the first period. The two teams skated back and forth, never really getting anything going. Erik Gudbranson and Jack Skille both layed a couple of good hits in the Tampa Bay zone, with Dmitry Kulikov negating Stamkos hard skating in the first.
As the Panthers were trying to clear, St. Louis stole the puck and surprised Jose Theodore with a hard shot on net which was nevertheless steered aside. Jason Garrison unleashed the howitzer just wide with seven minutes gone, and Michal Repik outskated two Bolts for the puck in the offensive zone, but the Cats could not get anything set up.
Erik Brewer flipped the puck out of play and was called for a delay of game penalty. The Cats had Tomas Fleischmann set up, but he couldn't lay the tape to the puck on a wide open net. The Panthers managed two shots on goal with the man advantage.
Jack Skille and Shawn Matthias were looking pretty good, setting up Marco Sturm on a shot that he barely missed, wide right. Brett Clark was called for high sticking Michal Repik with three minutes to go in the frame, but the Cats again couldn't get anything going.
St. Louis broke in on Theodore with about a minute left in the period, but Stephen Weiss locked him down, not allowing a shot on goal.
The Lightning didn't manage a shot on goal for the last ten minutes of the first period, and it ended with the Lightning holding a seven to five shot advantage.
Soon after the period started, the lightning were trying to clear the puck out of their zone, but it was intercepted by Mike Weaver. Weaver unleashed a slapshot which was easily saved by Garon.
Kulikov was upended in the Panthers zone, but got up ok. Soon after, Matthias got a breakaway opportunity on Garon, but the shot was turned aside. Garon showed some trouble early with rebound control, trouble that the cats could have exploited with better positioning.
Back in the Panthers zone, Teddy Purcell controlled a rebound and almost put it past Theodore if not for the netminder literally using his head to turn the shot away.
The second period was a lot more exciting than the first was, punctuated by flurries of activity on both sides of the ice.
Fleischmann scored his 10th of the season with an assist by Weiss at the 12:38 mark.
Just before the end of the period, Skille an odd man rush, feeding Mike Santorelli with a pass that the winger couldn't quite handle. After a quick trip up the ice, Skille again led a rush, this time four-on-two. He fed Campbell the puck for a one-time that Garon gloved for the save.
Both teams got 13 shots on goal during the period.
Fleischmann fed Kulikov with a one-timer that barely missed. Sturm cleared the puck out of the zone, and Kris Versteeg collected it and took it all the way into the Tampa Bay zone, leaving it on a drop pass for Weiss who shot it just wide.
Sean Bergenheim was about to lead an odd man rush when Clark was called for high sticking. The resultant power play was very disappointing, as the Cats spent more time collecting themselves in their own zone and never managed to get set up. Just after the power play ended, Versteeg broke in and threw the puck on the net, just barely missing.
On the return trip back up the ice, Vincent Lecavalier scored his 10th goal of the season on his own rebound with an assist from St. Louis.
Repik was called for interference and the Bolts took the ice for the power play, but Stamkos was called for another interference penalty just 15 seconds into the man advantage. The teams would go 4-on-4.
Weiss fed Kulikov on a one-timer that Garon easily saved, followed by a Skille breakout in which Sturm found himself in front of the net, just missing on a wrister.
The Bolts outshot the Cats 8 to 6 in the third.
Lecavalier put a shot right between Theodore's legs just inches away from scoriing a minute into the extra frame. Kulikov was assessed a two minute minor penalty for interference, putting the Cats at a 4-3 disadvantage.
After turning a shot away, defensemen Garrison and Weaver enjoyed an odd man rush, but couldn't get the shot off.
Steven Stamkos put the game winner in the net with his 12th goal of the season with 2:29 gone in the overtime period.
Jack Skille and Shawn Matthias were both skating lights out. Even though they did not figure into the scoring tonight, thier work ethic is contagious.
Michal Repik and Evgeny Dadonov are both fast and dangerous skaters.
Mike Santorelli was strong on the puck at times, but also missed a few golden opportunities when the puck was too hot for him.
Marco Sturm was all over the ice tonight, and is starting to show some creativity.
Even though he took the loss, Jose Theodore was excellent for the Cats in goal, turning away 29 of 31 shots.
Versteeg did not score tonight, but he was just everwhere, creating chances, breaking up opponent chances in the defensive zone, and showing off his ridiculous stick handling skills.
The Panthers try again tomorrow in St. Pete Times Forum, as Jacob Markstrom takes on Dwayne Roloson.