In what had all the markings of what could have been a "trap" (no, not that kind of trap) game, the Lightning stuck to what has been a winning formula of consistently productive offense, solid defense and efficient special teams to win their fourth game in a row, beating the Florida Panthers 5-2.
"Everybody seemed to have some worries, but not me. I just saw a great challenge ahead of us. I like the fact that they said they were going to come out hard tonight. It made for a great challenge. We can't look at anything as a threat; just a challenge." - Lightning head coach Guy Boucher
Still, the potential land mines were lurking: The Lightning riding a winning streak, with their most recent win an emotional one against the Flyers, tonight facing a Florida team that has underperformed so far this season in a weeknight game smack in the middle of their longest homestand of the season. All that plus a relatively sluggish start that the Bolts didn't really snap out of until goaltender Anders Lindback stopped a breakaway by Scottie Upshall just under five minutes in.
After an exchange of unpleasantries between B.J. Crombeen and Florida's Keaton Ellerby, the Lightning found themselves the beneficiary of the night's first man advantage. That advantage was nearly negated by a mini-flurry of broken sticks from Sami Salo and Vincent Lecavalier. However, Steven Stamkos cashed in at the 11:09 mark on assists from Martin St. Louis and Lecavalier
It took all of 15 seconds for the Panthers to tie the game when Lindback badly mishandled and surrendered the puck behind his net, allowing Peter Mueller to score unassisted at 11:24.
Less than two minutes later, the Lightning jumped out in front again when a long lead pass from Victor Hedman sprung Cory Conacher at 12:49 for his third goal of the season.
The Lightning carried the 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
At 3:18 of the second, the Bolts doubled their lead when Tom Pyatt scored with help from Dana Tyrell.
"Pretty much every goal I have scored has always been around the net. I haven't gotten any fancy ones or anything. If you just do it over and over again, you're going to get your goals." - Pyatt
It looked like the lead had opened to 4-1 at the 10:38 mark when Conacher appeared to shed a defender and score, but the goal was waved off and Conacher found himself in the penalty box with a holding penalty.
"Ah, it was just one of those things. I had hold of his jersey. The ref almost had to call it. I understand." - Connacher
The Lightning would score again at 15:39 on a goal by Tyrell with helpers from Pyatt and Benoit Pouliot, giving the Bolts a 4-1 lead going into the third.
At 14:13, the Bolts power play clicked again, this time getting the goal from Lecavalier on assists from Pouliot and Conacher.
"He's ready. Last year he would have shown a lot of those flashes but he would have been missing a lot of the things that he learned in the American Hockey League." - Boucher on Conacher
The Panthers actually finished the scoring less than a minute later when Tomas Fleischmann scored shorthanded on a breakaway at 14:31.
With the win and a loss tonight by Winnipeg, the Lightning maintain their top spot in the Southeast Division and increase their lead over the Jets to three points. Those two teams will meet in the Lightning's next game, Friday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
- Stat of the night? How about Dana Tyrell getting on the scoresheet for the first time this season, with his two points matching a career high. He scored his first goal since March 19, 2011.
- This was the second time Lindberg has faced the Panthers. He recorded his first NHL shutout the first time he faced them, as a member of the Nashville Predators on December 11, 2010.
- The Lightning have scored five or more goals for the fourth time this season and lead the NHL with 30 goals.
- The Lightning have scored five or more goals in three straight games, something that hasn't happened since the 2007-08 season.
- Stamkos has now scored in all six games so far this season.
- He also has a six games goal-scored streak versus the Panthers.
- This is the first time this season the Lightning outscored an opponent in a second period.
- After being outshot by opponents in each of the first four games, the Lightning have now held that advantage in their last two games.
- The Lightning honored Anna Rodriguez as the 18th Lightning Community Hero of the year during the first period of tonight's game against the Florida Panthers. Rodriguez, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate the money to the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking, the Joshua House and Crisis Center and the Family Justice Center. It has been Rodriguez's mission since 2005 to fight against all forms of human trafficking in the United States and abroad. She has brought traffickers to justice and helped rebuild the lives of victims from all around the world. Rodriguez has rescued victims, reunited them with their families and helped them find a new path in education or work. Rodriguez became aware of the human trafficking issues while working for the Collier County Sherriff's Office during a domestic dispute call in the 1990s. That experience motivated her to found the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking. The organization works closely with community service providers to supply victims with emergency food and shelter, medical treatment and other services to help restore their lives and basic freedoms. With recent cutbacks on contributions, Rodriguez is funding these efforts through her own personal savings.