SUNRISE — The puck was on the stick of Florida's Dennis Wideman. The net, only a few feet away, seemed wide open. That is until Lightning goaltender Dan Ellis stretched with his right leg and made a remarkable save.
The game Friday night still had a long way to go, but as Tampa Bay defenseman Randy Jones said, "That save in overtime, that was the two points for us."
The Lightning earned a 2-1 shootout victory at the BankAtlantic Center, its third straight win, each by the game-ending gimmick.
Dominic Moore was the only shooter to convert and for the second straight game got the winner. Steve Downie's first-period goal, his fourth of the season and first in 17 games off a sweet back pass from Steven Stamkos, made it 1-1.
But the story was Ellis, who in his first start since Jan. 9 made 29 saves to outduel Tomas Vokoun, earn his first victory since Dec. 26 and push Tampa Bay (29-15-5) to a three-point lead over the Capitals in the Southeast.
"He played great," coach Guy Boucher said. "He stayed poised under pressure, and it gave the rest of the team poise, too."
It was an important game for Ellis, who has played just four since Jan. 1, when Dwayne Roloson was acquired. Boucher said Ellis has practiced hard on controlling long-range shots, which have given him trouble; funny because much of what the Panthers launched came from in close.
None were closer than Wideman's shot with 3:40 left in overtime.
"I felt good with it," Ellis said of the save. "I felt like I got a good (left-to-right) push. When the net's open, you just have to try to take something away first."
"I've got to be more patient there," Wideman said. "He stretched across and took the bottom half away, but I just pounded it into his pad. I've got to make a better play. It should have been over."
It could have been over for Florida had Vinny Lecavalier converted a penalty shot with 1:05 left in overtime. But Vokoun made an outstanding right-leg save.
It would have been over had Tampa Bay's penalty kill not gone 7-for-7. A team's best penalty killer is its goalie, and Ellis made 14 saves when the Panthers were up a man.
"Ellie," Moore said, "was absolutely amazing."
He needed to be as the Panthers, who had a 30-21 shot advantage and held Stamkos without a shot for only the second time this season, used a good forecheck and swarming defensive scheme to bottle up a sluggish Tampa Bay team that played the night before.
"It's just good to be part of a win right now and help our team moving forward," Ellis said. "I just keep working hard to help them out."
|Lightning wins shootout 1-0|
First Period—1, Florida, Stillman 6 (Matthias, Garrison), :50. 2, Tampa Bay, Downie 4 (Stamkos, St. Louis), 14:05. Penalties—Lundin, TB (delay of game), 8:01.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Bergenheim, TB (tripping), 8:19; Gagne, TB (tripping), 15:37; Booth, Fla (interference), 17:28; Clark, TB (interference), 18:58.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Bergenheim, TB (hooking), 2:17; Wilson, Fla (high-sticking), 3:11; Gagne, TB (tripping), 4:03; Moore, TB (hooking), 5:19.
Shootout—Tampa Bay 1 (Hedman NG, Hall NG, Moore G), Florida 0 (Santorelli NG, Frolik NG, Weiss NG). Missed Penalty Shot—Lecavalier, TB, 3:55 overtime. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 6-5-8-2—21. Florida 11-9-9-1—30. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 1; Florida 0 of 7. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Ellis 12-7-5 (30 shots-29 saves). Florida, Vokoun 16-15-3 (21-20). A—17,328 (17,040).