Tampa Bay came into the weekend series with Florida with losses in four of five as it was looking at a big deficit in chasing down the Panthers in the Southeast Division.
Two wins over its rivals from Sunrise and the Lightning are right back in the thick of things.
The Lightning now trail Florida by four points after Saturday night's 5-1 dismantling at Tampa Bay Times Forum. The good news for the Panthers is they go into Sunday leading the division for the ninth straight day and their lead remains three points over Washington after the Capitals lost for the second straight night as well.
Florida got only one of four available points in the weekend series against Tampa Bay after losing 2-1 in overtime on Friday. The Panthers have lost their past three to the Lightning after winning four of six last year.
“We have lots of excuses but we just got outplayed,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “The score shows how the game played out. .-.-. These were four point games.''
The last time Florida played here, the power play scored a franchise-tying five goals. On Saturday, the Panthers had plenty of chances with an advantage but had just piddling chances as they struggled to keep the puck in the Lightning zone.
Marty St. Louis scored the opening goal after Brett Clark's initial shot bounced off of goalie Jacob Markstrom's pad; Brett Connolly quickly passed the loose puck to St. Louis who easily knocked it through. The Panthers then had two power play chances before the first ended but failed to get anything past Mathieu Garon.
The Panthers had three power play chances in the second as the Lightning opened things up with three goals on seven shots to open the period. Florida got shutout on all of them. The power play, ranked ninth in the league coming in, was 0-for-6 on Saturday and has one goal in the past 19 chances. In Florida's past eight games, it has just three power play goals.
Markstrom, making his first start since losing to Chicago in a Nov. 3 shootout, was pelted by the Lightning in the second. Tyler Pyatt got his first of the season making it 2-0 early in the second after picking off a loose puck and sweeping past rookie Erik Gudbranson. Ed Jovanovski went down on the ice to try and play blocker, but Pyatt threw the puck high over Markstrom's shoulder.
Less than three minutes later, Teddy Purcell made it 3-0 by throwing up a prayer while sliding backward, the awkward shot clipping Steven Stamkos – who scored Friday's overtime winner – and finding its way past Markstrom. Ryan Malone essentially ended it with 9:25 left in the second when he scored his fifth of the year.
Florida finally scored late when Shawn Matthias knocked in a rebound from Jack Skille, but moments later, Stamkos got another one to pad the large lead with less than a minute left.
“The power play was a pretty good example of our overall game,'' Dineen said. “We didn't have much jump out there.''
Dineen put three of his AHL call-ups on the same line Saturday as he wants to see which of those players remain with the Panthers after some of Florida's forwards start making it back to the lineup. Dineen called the trio of Evgenii Dadonov, Tim Kennedy and Michal Repik the 'San Antonio Express' line and added they would “bring a bucketload of energy.''
He was pleased with their effort afterward.
“I thought those guys played pretty well,'' Dineen said. “There was a mistake on the second goal and it ended up in our net. But otherwise, they brought a lot of energy.''
() Tomas Kopecky was back in the lineup after missing Friday's game with back spasms. Keaton Ellerby was the healthy scratch on Saturday.
() Dineen said he thinks Scott Clemmensen will participate in Monday's practice in Coral Springs and should travel with the team on its three-game trip that goes from North Carolina to Los Angeles and San Jose, Calif. Clemmensen has been out with what is thought to be a groin injury since shutting out Dallas 6-0 in his only start of the season on Nov. 15.