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Mike Santorelli the Hero: Florida Panthers Beat Lightning 3-2 in Shootout ... Panthers Penalty Kill, Power Play Lead the Way


TAMPA – Based on statistics, the Florida Panthers have one of the league's worst power plays. Florida has also traditionally been pretty lousy in shootouts.

Yet when the Panthers play the rival Lightning, just about all logic gets thrown out. The Panthers have owned Tampa Bay over the years and that is really all that matters.

Florida continued its trend of playing close games but this time came out on top thanks to two power play goals and Mike Santorelli's goal in the shootout that led to a 3-2 win at St. Pete Times Forum.

Santorelli's power play goal with three minutes left tied the game and helped force overtime.

“That's probably not the way we guessed the game would have gone,'' coach Pete DeBoer said smiling. “For us to end the week 2-2 with the four teams we had on the docket, that's a pretty good week for us. We had an opportunity to hopefully make up some ground.''

The two teams went into the second period tied at 1, although the Lightning broke that up just 14 seconds into the third when Sean Bergenheim knocked a rebound past Scott Clemmensen.

The Panthers kept coming at Dan Ellis and tied things up again after Santorelli jabbed at a loose puck in front of Ellis after the Tampa Bay netminder blocked a long shot from Bryan McCabe.

With David Booth knocking in a shot from Dennis Wideman early in the second period, the Panthers went 2-for-3 on the power play.

“I just went to the net, stood there and the puck popped out,'' Santorelli said. “I think we've been playing real well lately. It was nice to get the two points out of here. It was huge. We just need to keep it going the rest of the road trip.''

Clemmensen was terrific, stopping 34 shots in 65 minutes worth of work. Clemmensen, who likely earned himself a start Monday on Long Island, was put to the test in overtime after Radek Dvorak was called for tripping. Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos looked to break the deadlock, although his shot found the post and caromed out. Stamkos would later grill Clemmensen again, with the Florida goalie making two saves on the Lightning's boy wonder.

In the shootout, Clemmensen – who came into the game with the league's lowest save percentage in these contests this season – stopped all three shots he faced. Santorelli opened with a goal and that stood up as the winner as David Booth and Cory Stillman were stopped.

“I haven't been very good in the shootout this year. I gave up one last year and have already given up seven,'' Clemmensen said. “That's one area  I need to be better. Those are big wins, big points for us. We got one tonight. I'm not a big fan of it, I think it's gimmicky. But it's a win for us.''

The Panthers went after Tampa Bay's big-name forwards early. Stamkos, he of the 40 goals this season, was knocked into the boards courtesy of a Mike Weaver elbow. Vinny Lecavalier was flattened by Bryan Allen. Stillman drilled Martin St. Louis into the Florida bench.

None of those three scored on the Panthers Saturday, although goals from little knowns Marc-Andre Bergeron and Sean Bergenheim almost did Florida in.

As is usually the case, the Panthers and Lightning played a tight game. Florida has seen 19 of its past 22 games be decided by one goal.

“This team gives the fans their money's worth,'' DeBoer said. “It's not always pretty but the effort is there. They don't cheat you on the effort and what they leave on the ice. That means we're in the game almost every night. We just need to come out on top like this more often.''

The Panthers, called for three penalties in the opening period, got their big break on special teams late in the period when Tampa Bay's Dominic Moore and Mattias Ohlund were called for penalties just 31 seconds apart.

Florida didn't convert on its 5-on-3 chance right away, going into the locker room down 1-0. The Panthers did pounce early in the second, however, with Wideman breaking his stick on a shot from the point. Luckily for him, Booth was set up in front of the net and deflected the puck.

-- The Panthers penalty kill unit was busy Saturday as it stopped all six of Tampa Bay's power play chances. Florida's penalty kill, which came into the day ranked fourth in the league, has now stopped 30 straight chances. The Panthers have given up just one power play goal since Feb. 1.

-- As expected, winger Kenndal McArdle and defenseman Joe Callahan were returned to Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., on Saturday. McArdle came up and played in Friday's game; Callahan was expendable after Bryan McCabe returned to the lineup Friday after missing a month with a broken jaw.