All things considered, it would actually be kind of easy to forgive the Lightning for having their minds a million miles away from this game, considering that's where their bodies will be in about 72 hours or so. To their credit however, they showed up and tried to give the home crowd a nice send-off before yet another premature start to another long offseason. Alas, that was not to be.
"It's not a physical tools thing, it's a mental thing. Winning is infectious. It's contagious. When you start doing it, you want more of it. But it hasn't been done here of late. Never sit there and say they accept (losing) but it just gets in the back of their head. 'Well here we go again; now we're on our heels' and all of a sudden a 3-2 lead turns into a 4-3 deficit. That mentality of not letting that happen is something we as a staff are going to have to implement into our psyche."- Lightning head coach Jon Cooper
At the 18:50 mark, Benoit Pouliot slipped behind the Panthers defense and was hooked on a scoring attempt. As a result, he was awarded the Lightning's first and only penalty shot of the season. Unfortunately, he was not able to convert the opportunity.
However, just under four minutes later, Matt Carle scored on an assist from Martin St. Louis to give the Bolts the early lead.
Ryan Malone doubled it at 13:14, scoring on assists from Vincent Lecavalier and Victor Hedman.
The Panthers got on the board when Nick Bjugstad scored with help from Tyson Strachan and TJ Brennan at 16:54
The Lightning carried the 2-1 advantage into the first intermission
The Panthers struck quickly in the second, tying the game at two just :54 into the period on a goal from Tomas Fleischmann with assists by Jonathan Huberdeau and Drew Shore
The Bolts answered at 5:47 as St. Louis scored, thereby locking up the scoring title. Teddy Purcell and Steven Stamkos provided assistance.
"Obviously I would trade a lot of that to be in a playoff and have a chance at the Stanley Cup... but I'm proud. I'm not going to say I'm not." - St. Louis
That goal allowed the Lightning to take a 3-2 lead into the third. They had reason to feel good about their chances as they came into tonight's game 13-5-0 when scoring first and 11-2-0 when leading after two periods. They also came into tonight's game leading the NHL with 66 third period goals.
However, one of the Lightning's glaring weaknesses has been passing this season. Where most teams try to hit a specific player or at least a location with their passes, too often Lightning players swat the puck around and struggle to just keep them within the same zip code. Tonight, they had 16 giveaways while Florida only committed five. That kind of ratio eventually leads to trouble.
At 5:30 of the third, Florida tied the game again, this time getting a goal from Scottie Upshall on an assist from Eric Selleck.
They took their first lead at 13:53, with Fleischmann scoring what would be the eventual game winner on assists by Huberdeau and Filip Kuba.
Huberdeau fed Marcel Goc for an empty netter at 19:12 to finish the night and the season.
"What's worse, to just miss the playoffs by one point on the last night, or... If you're gonna miss the playoffs, you might as well hit a home run and miss the playoffs and I think we kind of did that," - Lightning head coach
The Lightning finish the work stoppage-abbreviated season 18-26-4 (40 points), fourth place in this final season of the Southeast Division and 14th in the Eastern Conference.
- Stat of the night? Come on, what else? At 37 years old, Marty St. Louis becomes the oldest player to win the Art Ross Trophy which is awarded for leading the league in points scored. St. Louis finished with 60 on the year, beating out Steven Stamkos (57) and Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby (56).
- The Lightning finish with a home record of 12-10-2.
- Tonight's attendance was 19,204, a sellout. The Forum was sold out for 21 of the team's 24 home games.
- Ryan Malone scored his sixth goal of the season and his first since March 9th (vs Montreal).
- Matt Carle's goal was his fifth of the season, leading all Tampa Bay defensemen in that category.
- The Lightning honored Bob and Janet Ferguson as the 39th Lightning Community Heroes of the year during the first period of tonight's game against Florida. The Ferguson's, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate the money to the Camp Living Springs at Morton Plant Mease Foundation. Bob and Janet Ferguson both are cancer survivors that know full-well how difficult it is to go through cancer treatments, especially chemotherapy and radiation treatment. After experiencing their own struggles, their hope is to help patients suffering from cancer a chance to unwind during the recovery process. The couple prescribes major doses of courage, comfort and enjoyment for cancer survivors and their families. The Ferguson's both spent countless hours at Camp Living Springs, a Morton Plant Mease supported 100-acre all-expense paid three-day adult retreat facility that is intended to put the fun back into cancer patients' lives. The Ferguson's plan a variety of activities and invite cancer survivors to get away from their daily obligations by nurturing their spirits and building camaraderie through fishing, crafting, nature walks, karaoke, entertainment and dancing.