TAMPA — Steven Stamkos couldn't put his finger on it, but he felt something good was going to happen in Thursday's game with the Panthers.
"I just had an eerie feeling," the Lightning's star center said, "this was going to be a good night."
Stamkos actually had a great night, with his sixth career hat trick and four points in an efficient 18:23 of ice time in Tampa Bay's dominating 7-2 home-opening victory in front of an announced sellout crowd of 19,204 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"It was fun to watch," coach Jon Cooper said. "It's good to be able to throw (No.) 91 over the boards."
The Lightning's third straight victory was a blueprint of how Cooper wants to play. Tampa Bay (3-1-0) took care of the defensive zone, was energetic on the forecheck and scored two power-play goals.
Stamkos scored the Lightning's first shorthanded goal since March 26, 2012. Valtteri Filppula scored twice. Marty St. Louis and Ondrej Palat scored, and goalie Ben Bishop made 19 saves and got an assist for his first career point.
There also was this: Tampa Bay, in its fourth game, finally scored first and gained its first regulation lead.
But Stamkos was the focus, not just because of his first goals of the season but because of the completeness of his game that included four hits and a blocked shot. He also won 8 of 15 faceoffs, significant because he entered having won 18 of 54 (33 percent).
"He played 200 feet," Cooper said. "He was a physical force out there. He was really dictating where he wanted to be and when he wanted the puck."
Stamkos said he was not at his best in his first two games, at Boston and Chicago. But Tuesday against the Sabres he had so many scoring chances, he knew he was close and said he felt no pressure.
That's quite different from seasons past, in which Stamkos said one-game droughts caused him to lose sleep. "Cooper even ask me before the game if I was putting any pressure on myself," Stamkos said. "I said no."
Stamkos really applied pressure on his second goal, off a scramble in front of the net after he separated Florida defender Dmitry Kulikov from the puck with a crunching check against the end boards. His third goal came on a vintage power-play one-timer off a feed from Sami Salo.
"Seeing him now and how well he plays all around, that's impressive," Filppula said.
"When you play the game the right way, you get rewarded," Stamkos said. "I want to keep that up."
Nothing eerie about that.
First—1, TB, St. Louis 2 (Stamkos, Purcell), 8:13. 2, TB, Stamkos 1 (St. Louis, Hedman), 13:54 (sh). Penalties—Weaver, Fla (hook), 6:12; Panik, TB (high-stick), 11:55; Hedman, TB (hook), 19:40.
Second—3, Fla, Boyes 2 (Campbell, Fleischmann), :59 (pp). 4, TB, Stamkos 2 (Carle, Malone), 11:39. 5, TB, Palat 1 (Killorn, Bishop), 15:51. Penalties—Labrie, TB (interference), 4:31; Huberdeau, Fla (hold), 5:18; Winchester, Fla (cross-check), 7:45; Gudbranson, Fla, major (fighting), 13:11; Crombeen, TB, major (fighting), 13:11.
Third—6, Fla, Huberdeau 1 (Gomez, Versteeg), 3:48. 7, TB, Filppula 2 (Carle, Killorn), 6:38 (pp). 8, TB, Filppula 3 (Purcell, Salo), 9:14. 9, TB, Stamkos 3 (Salo, Purcell), 12:25 (pp). Penalties—Goc, Fla (delay of game), 4:57; Winchester, Fla (hook), 10:56; Labrie, TB (hold), 13:22; Upshall, Fla (cross-check), 16:44; Hedman, TB (roughing), 16:44; Carle, TB (cross-check), 17:45. Shots—Fla 6-8-7—21. TB 9-10-9—28. PP opps—Fla 1 of 5; TB 2 of 5. Goalies—Fla, Markstrom 0-1-0 (24 shots-18 saves), Clemmensen (9:14 third, 4-3). TB, Bishop 3-0-0 (21-19).