TAMPA — For Marty St. Louis, silence was golden.
The last time he talked to the media before a potential milestone game, an injury put him on the sideline. So before his 900th NHL game, Saturday night against the Panthers, the Lightning wing declined interviews with a forceful no.
He then scored a hat trick to spark an enormous 6-3 victory at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
That was a much better result than when he missed what would have been his 500th consecutive game, Dec. 8 in New York, after taking an errant puck to the face.
"Yeah, that's right," St. Louis said, acknowledging it is better not to talk before a game and playfully adding to reporters, "now you guys are learning."
What we learned about the Lightning (23-23-5) is it has some fight in it.
The win was its sixth in seven games and pulled it to within eight points of first-place Florida in the Southeast Division. Had it lost and fallen 12 back, a divisional playoff push would have been all but impossible.
The Lightning also stayed nine points out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
"We've got this path in front of us," coach Guy Boucher said. "It's very narrow, so we want to stick to what we do. … It had to do with us knowing we are playing the right way, and if we do that consistently, we're going to have success."
The game was big on many levels for Tampa Bay, which had a 34-20 shot advantage and took a 5-3 lead with a four-goal second period. Captain Vinny Lecavalier had four points, including his 20th goal, the 12th straight year he has reached that mark. Steven Stamkos scored his league-best 34th goal. Nate Thompson scored 1:37 into the game.
Goalie Mathieu Garon made 17 saves, and defenseman Victor Hedman played what Boucher called a "monster" game, with an assist, five shots and five of the team's 22 blocks.
The night, though, belonged to St. Louis, 36, who has 16 goals and a nine-game points streak (six goals, 10 assists) that is the longest current in the league.
"He worked hard," Lecavalier said. "He battled and deserves it. His 900th game makes it extra special."
St. Louis' fifth career hat trick, and first since Oct. 26, 2006, against Carolina, was completed into an empty net off a pass from Stamkos, who had an open shot of his own.
"I've been on the receiving end a lot from Marty, so I owed him that," Stamkos said. "I told him on the draw, if we get a chance, just be ready."
"It was very unselfish," said St. Louis. "With the win, three goals, my kids being (at the game), I have a lot of reasons to remember this game."
And to talk about it.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Thompson 7, 1:37. 2, Florida, Fleischmann 17 (Versteeg, Weaver), 3:54. Penalties—Weiss, Fla (tripping), 16:40; Downie, TB (hooking), 18:24.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 20, 1:42. 4, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 14 (Shannon, Lecavalier), 4:22. 5, Florida, Samuelsson 6 (Bergenheim), 7:06. 6, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 34 (Downie, Hedman), 12:36. 7, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 15 (Lecavalier, Shannon), 15:08. 8, Florida, Bergenheim 9 (Goc, Strachan), 19:14. Penalties—None.
Third Period—9, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 16 (Stamkos, Lecavalier), 19:39 (en-pp). Penalties—Hedman, TB (tripping), 4:22; Bergenheim, Fla (hooking), 8:10; Pyatt, TB (hooking), 16:20; Versteeg, Fla (tripping), 17:50. Shots on Goal—Florida 7-7-6—20. Tampa Bay 9-17-8—34. Power-play opportunities—Florida 0 of 3; Tampa Bay 1 of 3. Goalies—Florida, Clemmensen 8-3-5 (32 shots-27 saves), Foster (15:08 second, 1-1), Clemmensen 8-3-5 (0:00 third). Tampa Bay, Garon 16-13-3 (20-17). A—19,204 (19,204). T—2:23.