RALEIGH, N.C. — Lightning rookie Richard Panik knew he'd always remember his first NHL goal.
But many won't soon forget Panik's highlight-reel tally in Tampa Bay's 5-2 victory over the Hurricanes on Saturday night at PNC Arena. It proved to be the winner, helping the Lightning move into sole possession of first place in the Southeast Division.
"It was one of the best first goals I've ever seen," goalie Mathieu Garon said.
You can argue Panik, 22, should have also been credited with an assist.
With Tampa Bay clinging to a 2-1 lead seven minutes into the third period, Panik took a pass along the right side of Carolina's zone. He wristed a shot from the right circle, and the rebound bounced right onto his stick. Knowing he had a bad angle and goalie Dan Ellis was on his knees, Panik flipped the puck over Ellis' glove across the crease — essentially passing it to himself — before zipping around the net and backhanding it in.
"That was unbelievable," coach Guy Boucher said.
Said rookie Cory Conacher: "He almost scored three times there."
Panik, who kept the puck, said he never had had a goal like that.
"I was really excited," said Panik, in his sixth NHL game. "It's like I blacked out."
Panik's goal was one of four in another strong third period by the Lightning and broke open a tight game. Garon, making his first start in eight days, was sharp in holding Carolina scoreless the first two periods. He made 32 saves, including a spectacular stop on Hurricanes star Eric Staal in the second. Garon stuck his pad out to steer aside a Staal redirection.
"I just reacted," Garon said. "And got a little lucky."
Boucher liked how the Lightning (9-7-1) played all week, feeling it has found its identity. And Tampa Bay continued to keep the pressure on the Hurricanes, crashing the net and peppering Ellis, a former Lightning goalie, with 39 shots. The power play, despite going 0-for-3, looked better and had quality chances.
Tampa Bay had a balanced attack. Marc-Andre Bergeron scored in the first and Benoit Pouliot early in the third, and Steven Stamkos picked up his 12th later in the third.
But Panik's goal was huge. It was the first of two Lightning tallies in 18 seconds — Tom Pyatt had the other — and came four minutes after Carolina had pulled within 2-1.
Boucher said the Lightning knew Panik's offensive game is lethal. But it has used him on the fourth line to improve his defensive game.
"It's not going to be his only NHL goal, I can tell you that," Conacher said. "They are going to keep coming."
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Bergeron 1, 10:54. Penalties—Semin, Car (high-sticking), 11:42.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Brewer, TB (hooking), 5:43; Corvo, Car (delay of game), 17:27.
Third Period—2, Tampa Bay, Pouliot 6 (Lecavalier, St. Louis), 2:11. 3, Carolina, Bowman 1 (Nash, LaRose), 3:04. 4, Tampa Bay, Panik 1 (Hall, Stamkos), 7:37. 5, Tampa Bay, Pyatt 4 (Killorn, Brewer), 7:55. 6, Carolina, LaRose 2 (Sanguinetti, Jokinen), 16:11. 7, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 12 (Conacher, Salo), 17:38. Penalties—Conacher, TB (tripping), 12:35; Hedman, TB (delay of game), 14:41; Semin, Car (tripping), 15:38. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 13-10-16—39. Carolina 11-12-11—34. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 3; Carolina 0 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Garon 2-3-0 (34 shots-32 saves). Carolina, Ellis 3-2-0 (39-34).