SUNRISE — Marty St. Louis wound up to shoot Ondrej Palat's cross-ice pass as hard as he could. But the Lightning captain mishit the puck.
So instead of a screaming slap shot, he flubbed a knuckleball at Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen — and scored anyway.
Those are the breaks one gets when things are going well. And right now things couldn't be going much better for St. Louis, who in a 6-1 victory Monday night at the BB&T Center reinforced that he is playing his best hockey of the season.
"I feel good out there," the right wing said. "When you're winning and contributing, you feel like you're doing your job. It's fun."
St. Louis had a goal and three points for Tampa Bay (23-11-3), which won its fifth straight game. He also had five shots, was plus-2, and had two takeaways and a blocked shot in 20:27 of ice time.
J.T. Brown had the first two-goal game of his career. Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson and Valtteri Filppula scored and Ben Bishop made 28 saves for his 20th victory.
But it was St. Louis off whom the team fed, Killorn said, adding, "He was huge."
It has been that way since Nov. 11, when star center Steven Stamkos broke his leg. Tampa Bay is 11-6-3 without him, and in those 20 games St. Louis has nine goals and 21 points.
The team is 9-2-2 when St. Louis has a goal, shootout goal or assist.
"He has led the way," coach Jon Cooper said. "He's been outstanding for us. He has clearly put the team on his back and it's been great to see."
"You know you're counted on and you want to deliver," said St. Louis, who has a team-best 16 goals and 37 points that are tied for 11th in the league. "You feel everybody is going to be watching our team. I feel everybody is going to be watching me. I definitely took it as a challenge. … I'm going to try to keep pushing."
Funny thing about Monday, St. Louis did not score on his best chance, a breakaway on which Clemmensen, on his stomach, made a Marty Brodeur-like save by bending his right leg up at the knee.
But St. Louis scored and assisted on goals by Johnson and Filppula during a three-goal second period that broke open a 1-1 game.
"Sometimes the odds have a funny way of evening things out," St. Louis said.
There are ways to tilt the odds as well, such as St. Louis has done by feeding off rookie linemates Johnson and Palat.
"When (Stamkos) goes down you have to reinvent yourself a little bit," St. Louis said. "I'm playing with young guys who have energy."
Though St. Louis is 38, Johnson and Palat could say the same about him.
First Period—1, Florida, Bergenheim 5 (Barkov), 18:56 (pp). 2, Tampa Bay, Killorn 9 (Filppula, Hedman), 19:15. Penalties—Kulikov, Fla (holding), 8:34; Killorn, TB (hooking), 15:04; Palat, TB (hooking), 17:16.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Johnson 9 (Hedman, St. Louis), 3:22. 4, Tampa Bay, Filppula 13 (Purcell, St. Louis), 8:01 (pp). 5, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 16 (Palat), 12:07. Penalties—Carle, TB (concealing puck), 4:28; Gilbert, Fla (hooking), 6:48; Florida bench, served by Huberdeau (too many men), 6:48; Petrovic, Fla (tripping), 13:04.
Third Period—6, Tampa Bay, Brown 3 (Kucherov, Cote), 3:40. 7, Tampa Bay, Brown 4 (Kucherov, Carle), 13:36. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 9-16-11—36. Florida 11-12-6—29. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 4; Florida 1 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Bishop 20-5-2 (29 shots-28 saves). Florida, Clemmensen 4-3-1 (36-30). A—15,942 (17,040). T—2:23.