PANTHERS 4, LIGHTNING 3 (OT)
If the Panthers were to play the Tampa Bay Lightning a few more times, this whole playoff drought thing might just be a distant memory.
Truth is, Florida would have to play its cross-state rivals a lot more.
Yet on Saturday night, the Panthers continued their winning ways against the Lightning, as Jason Garrison's goal with 16 seconds left in overtime lifted Florida to a 4-3 win in front of an announced 16,607 at BankAtlantic Center.
Florida had a 3-1 lead in the third before Tampa Bay picked up two power play goals to force overtime. Of the five games between the two, the past four have gone to overtime or a shootout.
“This year has been tough with the one-goal games and we've been on both sides of it,'' said Garrison, who has four goals this season – three of which were game-winners. “It's nice to get a win and we definitely worked hard and deserved it.''
Said coach Pete DeBoer: “There was more excitement than we wanted. We shot ourselves in the foot a few times, but the result was the right one. We played hard and deserved to win. It wasn't how we drew it up, but we'll take the two points.''
The Panthers clinched the season series against the Lightning, winning four of the first five meetings. Since the rivalry began in 1993, Florida has won the series nine times with four ties. Saturday's win was Florida's 53rd against Tampa Bay with 34 losses and 10 ties. The Panthers visit Tampa Bay in their final road game of the season in April.
And this year's losses couldn't come at a worse time for the Lightning.
Tampa Bay has lost control of the Southeast Division to the Capitals after losing six of seven. The Lightning lost to lowly Ottawa on Friday night before coming south to play the Panthers. Had it not been for Florida taking so many penalties, the Lightning may not have even scored.
Coming into the game, Florida had stopped 15 of Tampa Bay's 16 power play chances this season. On Saturday, the Lightning went three-for-eight on the power play as Florida's penalty kill surrendered three goals for the first time all season.
“We didn't play mistake-free hockey, but I'm just happy for the guys in this room,'' said goalie Scott Clemmensen, who gamely stopped 35 shots. “They've been playing really hard since the trade deadline and haven't necessarily been rewarded. We got the win, we just did it the hard way.''
Florida hopped to a 1-0 lead when David Booth scored early in the second, Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos tying it on a power play chance 10 minutes later.
The Panthers looked to put the Lightning away when Niclas Bergfors and Ryan Carter each picked up their first goals as members of the Panthers – Carter's coming in his inaugural game with Florida. Bergfors' goal with 5:18 gone in the third made it 3-1, but the Lightning would get a few more power play chances.
Vinny Lecavalier took advantage of a 5-on-3 chance with 7:25 left to cut Florida's lead to one, and with Bergfors in the box for clipping Martin St. Louis with a high stick, Simon Gagne scored to tie the score with 2:05 remaining.
Overtime belonged to the Panthers, however, with the Panthers getting some big chances. Garrison's goal came on the fifth shot Mike Smith faced in the extra session.
“It was back-and-forth but were able to close it out,'' Bergfors said. “It was a good win for us. We took some bad penalties at the end, but we showed we were the better team [Saturday].''
Defenseman Clay Wilson hasn't been much of a scoring threat during his NHL career, but he's turned it up of late. Wilson came into Tuesday's game against Chicago with just one NHL goal; after scoring in successive games, he now has three.
DeBoer says it's not strange to see Wilson scoring goals – well, at this level it is. Wilson has his share of goals at the AHL level, scoring 10 in 62 games with Florida's affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., this season. In his first pro season in 2005-06, Wilson scored 10 goals for Grand Rapids, Mich. He would later score 11 for Syracuse in 2007-08 and 14 for Rochester last year.
“We signed him as a depth guy in the organization but he's been a perennial All-Star in the American league,'' DeBoer said. “He's a guy who has made the jump for small stretches but just can't find a consistent job. With the injuries we have and the guys we moved out, this is a good opportunity for him. He's an offensive guy. He helps on the power play and is not afraid to push things offensively.''
Wilson was called up when defenseman Alexander Sulzer was injured last week and is trying to stick around. With Rochester's playoff hopes pretty much dead, there's really no reason for him to go back. On Thursday, his was the only goal scored in a loss to Ottawa.
“When you're down 2-0 with five minutes left, the defense has to jump in and look for any hole you can find,'' Wilson said. “I jumped in off the faceoff, got it to the net and luckily it went in.''
-- Winger Jack Skille tested his injured ankle in practice on Saturday and could be back in the lineup this month.
Lightning Bugged: Panthers Take Out Bolts in OT (Again) as Garrison Nets Winner 4-3
PANTHERS 4, LIGHTNING 3 (OT)