The Florida Panthers narrowly avoided a shutout at the hands of cross-state nemesis Tampa Bay, scoring a garbage time goal to break up the shutout with two minutes remaning in the third period. Steven Stamkos netted two, while Martin St Louis, Tom Pyatt and Ryan Malone each potted one for the Bolts.
The Panthers took the faceoff to open the game, but not much else went right for the Cats in the frame. After the Lightning controlled the puck with an odd-man rush, Brian Campbell broke it up with a sliding poke check. The Bolts controlled the puck and Brett Clark fed Martin St. Louis for his sixth goal of the season, his 300th as a member of the Lightning.
It was almost 2-0 a minute later but Steven Stamkos just missed a wide open net. On the ensuing possession, Stephen Weiss fired just wide of the net with Jason Garrison controlling the rebound and unleashing a surpirse slapshot that was turned aside by Mathieu Garon.
Tampa Bay kept in in the offensive zone for an extended period with the Cats unable to clear the puck. With about 9 minutes remaining in the period the Panthers managed to get some good pressure on Garon, getting three quick shots on goal by Mike Santorelli, Sean Bergenheim and Jack Skille. Garon, however brought his "A" game to the Forum, and stopped each shot easily.
Soon after, Pavel Kubina was called for tripping Ed Jovanovski. During the man advantage, Brian Campbell fed Dmitry Kulikov for a slapshot that Garon stopped. The rebound was collected by Kris Versteeg, but the ensuing shot was pulled just wide of the net. Evgeny Dadonov fed Michal Repik, but Repik was taken down by a surging Steven Stamkos, and was unable to get the shot off.
On the ensuing power play, the Panthers were unable to get set up, with Jovanovski and winger Marco Sturm showing considerable difficulty in keeping the puck in the zone.
Each team collected 10 shots on goal, but the Bolts dished out 15 hits to only two for the Panthers. The period ended with the Lightning on top, 1-0.
Stamkos broke into the Panthers zone, but Versteeg was keeping him honest, and did not allow Stamkos the opportunity to get the shot off. Dadonov fed Repik with a cross-ice pass just outside the crease, but the shot just missed wide of the net.
Jovanovski again couldn't keep the puck in the zone, and the Lightning made the Panthers pay with Tom Pyatt's first goal of the season and as a member of Tampa Bay, with a wrister past a sprawling Jacob Markstrom. He was assisted on the goal by Marc-Andre Bergeron.
Shawn Matthias and Jack Skille got a good shot on goal, and Mike Weaver corralled the rebound and drove a slap shot on net that was stopped by Garon. The Lightning scored again on the return trip up the ice with Steven Stamkos 13th goal of the season, assists by Teddy Purcell and Dana Tyrell.
Versteeg, Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann challenged Garon with a quality scoring chance a moment later, but the three were unable to get on the scoresheet during the rush, with Garon again showing equal to the task.
Steven Stamkos stole the puck and fed Ryan Malone, who scored his fifth goal of the season and put the Cats in a 4-0 hole.
Purcell was called for hooking, putting the Cats back on the power play. Tomas Kopecky unleashed a one timer that was turned away by Garon. The power play finished without any other serious threat mounted by the Panthers.
Dadonov and Kennedy nearly got the Panthers on the board, but could not convert. Kulikov was then called for holding the stick, putting the Lighning on the man advantage for the first time in the game. The Bolts could not add to their lead, and were called for too many men on the ice with 40 seconds left in the power play, putting the action at 4-on-4 followed by a short power pay for the Panthers.
The Cats did not threaten with the man advantage. Victor Hedman was called for a hooking penalty on Jack Skille just before the end of the second period.
The period ended with the Lightning outshooting the Panthers 11 to 10.
The Panthers seemed unable to keep even footing as the third period started, literally, as the Cats continuously lost their edges. Tomas Fleischmann was called for hooking at the 8:19 mark, putting the Lightning on their second power play of the night. Sturm and Dadonov were showing strong signs of waking up, showing creativity and on-ice awareness that the Cats seemed to have been lacking for the first two and a half periods.
Weiss and Garrison linked up for a one-timer that was turned aside by Garon.
With two minutes left in the games, Garon misplayed a puck behind the net, allowing Skille a shot on the net before Matthias could collect the loose puck and score his third goal of the season.
The Panthers looked energized for just over a minute after getting on the board, but Stamkos stole the puck in the Panthers zone and put it through Markstrom's five hole for his 14 goal of the season to seal up the scoring at 5-1.
The Lightning looked aggressive and the Panthers were tentative all night. Somehow, the Panthers were skating tired, while their opponent from last night looked refreshed. Florida has to find a way to come back strong on the second night of back-to-back games.
Florida's first line of Versteeg, Fleischmann and Weiss didn't really look like one of the best lines in the NHL, only managing six shots on goal, four by Weiss. The three finished at a cumulative minus-six on the evening.
Jack Skille, Michal Repik, Evgeny Dadonov, Tomas Kopecky and Marco Sturm looked better than the final score would show.
Ed Jovanovski looked outmatched all night, letting the puck out of the zone and getting beat in his own end on several occasions.