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Panthers Winning Ways End as Lightning win 2-1 in OT ... Cats Haven't Won Four Straight Since Jacques Martin Coached ... Tomas Kopecky Misses Game, Could Return Saturday

VersteegDale Tallon stood in the corner of the elevator muttering unprintable words under his breath. Tomas Fleischmann said there was disappointment because the Panthers “are used to winning.'' Kris Versteeg adding “we're a little ticked off.''

The Panthers lost to the visiting Lightning on Friday, but mind you, it was a 2-1 overtime defeat in which Florida picked up a point to extend its lead over Washington atop the Southeast Division.

Even though the Panthers took seven of an available eight points in a four-game homestand, no one was looking at the big picture. They were upset the winning run came to an end.

In past years, the Panthers may have staged a parade around the Sawgrass Mills Mall after such a successful stand at home.

“We didn't play our best game, we looked a little tired,'' said Fleischmann, who scored Florida's lone goal in the second period. “No excuses. We have to find a way to win in the third. We didn't.''

The Panthers try to get back on the winning end Saturday as they get a rematch against the Lightning in Tampa. The Lightning have won two straight against Florida, getting both wins after coming back from third period deficits and winning in overtime.

That's two points the Panthers have handed over to their rivals from Hillsborough County.

“We had enough chances to win and they came back on us again. We have to fix that for the next one,'' Versteeg said, noting that Tampa Bay moved within six points of the first-place Panthers after losing four of its past five. “We have a goal going into the third and we have to hold that. We've given up too many points this year.''

Before Friday's game, coach Kevin Dineen admitted he would like some more “comfy” games as his team has played close to the final horn for much of the past few weeks. Friday's game was Florida's eighth straight one-goal game at home; the Panthers had won the previous three but are now 3-5 in those games.

After a nap-inducing opening period in which Florida looked slow against Tampa Bay's 1-3-1 trap, Florida opened things up in the second. The Panthers, who had just two shots 13 minutes into the first, took a 1-0 lead when Fleischmann got his 10th of the season after knocking a Stephen Weiss pass past Mathieu Garon.

Garon had been pulled in his previous visit to Sunrise after giving up three in the opening period but was solid Friday, stopping 23 shots to get the win. Florida had plenty of opportunities to pad its slim lead but failed to do so, with Garon getting help from the cage on the Panthers biggest chance in the third.

Midway through, Versteeg clanked a slap shot off the post, the puck careening out of danger. Soon after, Vinny Lecavalier tied it by knocking a loose puck past Jose Theodore (29 saves) at 8:59 of the third.

The Lightning caught a big break in overtime as Dmitry Kulikov was called for interfering with Lecavalier in the offensive zone. The Lightning had a 4-on-3 advantage for two minutes, and despite some great clears by Mike Weaver and others, the Panthers couldn't kill it off. With 19 seconds left in the power play, Steven Stamkos ripped one from the circle to win it.

Florida still can't get past a three-game winning streak as the Panthers haven't won four straight since Jacques Martin coached the team in March 2008.

“We had opportunities and the game certainly the pace our team has played for the majority of our games,'' Dineen said. “Unfortunately we didn't end up on the top of it. It was a disappointing loss. They had two full minutes and that's hard to kill. They had a lot of talented players on the ice. But it looked like we were going to get out of it. They had the right guy at the end.''

AROUND THE RINK

The Panthers had another starter out of the lineup on Friday as winger Tomas Kopecky missed the game with back spasms. Kopecky participated in the morning skate on a line with Tim Kennedy and Marco Sturm but didn't warm up before the game.

With four forwards out, the Panthers went with seven defensemen as Versteeg and Weiss handled a lot of double-shift duties. Assistant general manager Mike Santos said the Panthers could call up another forward from AHL San Antonio but wouldn't make that decision until late Friday night.

Kopecky said he felt OK but would be a “game-time decision'' Saturday in Tampa.

() The NHL suspended New York Rangers forward Andre Deveaux for three games after he threw an elbow at Fleischmann during Wednesday's game. Fleischmann left the game after hitting the ice but returned by the end of the second period and started Friday. Deveaux will forfeit $8,513.52 with the money going to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

LightningbugSATURDAY: PANTHERS AT LIGHTNING

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa

TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560

The series: Panthers lead 55-36-10

The game: This is the fifth of six meetings between the two this season as they play for the second time in as many nights. The series is even through four after the Lightning came back from a 1-0 third period deficit to beat the Panthers 2-1 in overtime on Friday in Sunrise. Florida is expected to start rookie Jacob Markstrom in net, his first start since losing to the Blackhawks in a shootout Nov. 3. Markstrom was sent to the minors on Nov. 7 and recalled on Nov. 20 as Scott Clemmensen has been on the shelf. The Lightning are expected to start Dwayne Roloson.

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