TAMPA — Six goals set a season high. Three straight wins ties the season best.
The grinders battled and scored to set a tone, and the stars played like stars to finish it.
In summation, the Lightning displayed the complete effort interim coach Rick Tocchet has so tried to flog out of it. And so the long march out of last place in the Southeast Division ended Saturday with a 6-4 victory over Florida at St. Pete Times Forum.
Former Hart Trophy winner Marty St. Louis had a goal and three assists and captain Vinny Lecavalier two goals and an assist as the two remaining cogs of the 2003-04 Stanley Cup champion helped the Lightning improve to 10-16-9 (surpassing the Thrashers) and tantalized of turning the season around.
Hopefully, Tocchet said, but not in one night or three games, wins or otherwise.
"I'm a big believer in even keel," he said.
"Yeah, it's nice to win, but it's back to work. We put ourselves in a pretty big hole, so it's nice to get the third one. But we need to get on a roll here and take nothing for granted. Let's see what we're made of."
Strong stuff on this night as the Lightning appeared out to convince Tocchet that his marching orders — focus, battle, repeat — after the Christmas break had been received.
The Lightning amassed 11 hits over the first 10 minutes of the game (Florida had one) and had outshot the Panthers 21-3 after 20 minutes.
Rookie Steven Stamkos and Evgeny Artyukhin (who has goals in two straight games) gave the Lightning a 2-0 lead after the first period.
Lightning goaltender Mike Smith made 29 saves, surrendering two goals on five-on-threes in the second period.
It was "a pretty weak effort," by Florida in the estimation of Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, especially considering his team entered the home-and-home series against the Lightning on a 7-2-1 run before being swept.
The Lightning scored three straight goals after the Panthers exploited the five-on-three with goals by Nathan Horton and David Booth within a 26-second span.
Lecavalier salvaged the period with 5.4 seconds left when he grabbed a wobbling puck from the air in front of the goal, quickly dropped it to the ice and snapped it past Tomas Vokoun for his second goal of the game and 14th of the season.
The Lightning never trailed again. Ryan Malone made it 5-3 with a spin move 4:42 into the third period. And St. Louis' 13th goal of the season came 3:06 later as he fired in his own miss from a first shot that caromed off the backboards, through Vokoun's legs and onto his stick.
"A game like this, where you score six, helps guys' confidence," St. Louis said.
But it's no more shallow a hole to dig out of.
Brant James can be reached at brant @sptimes.com or (727) 893-8804.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 4 (Smaby, Jokinen), 7:06. 2, Tampa Bay, Artyukhin 3 (Recchi, Jokinen), 14:03 (pp). Penalties—Artyukhin, TB (cross-checking), 3:20; Ranger, TB (holding stick), 7:33; Bouwmeester, Fla (hooking), 11:06; Campbell, Fla (slashing, unsportsmanlike conduct), 12:16; Boynton, Fla (interference), 13:35; Malik, TB (holding), 18:26.
Second Period—3, Florida, Booth 13, 3:09. 4, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 13 (St. Louis, Malone), 4:52. 5, Florida, Horton 7 (Stillman, Weiss), 16:27 (pp). 6, Florida, Booth 14 (Frolik, McCabe), 16:53 (pp). 7, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 14 (St. Louis, Malone), 19:54. Penalties—Artyukhin, TB (charging), 7:09; Meszaros, TB (slashing), 10:19; Smaby, TB (interference), 15:16; Ranger, TB (tripping), 15:39.
Third Period—8, Tampa Bay, Malone 8 (St. Louis, Ranger), 4:42. 9, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 13 (Lecavalier, Malone), 7:46. 10, Florida, Weiss 6 (Booth), 13:57. Penalties—Welch, Fla (interference), 2:14; Malone, TB (holding), 14:22; McCabe, Fla (slashing), 19:58. Shots on Goal—Florida 3-15-11—29. Tampa Bay 21-9-12—42. Power-play opportunities—Florida 2 of 8; Tampa Bay 1 of 6. Goalies—Florida, Vokoun 8-11-1 (42 shots-36 saves). Tampa Bay, Smith 8-12-8 (29-25). A—18,226 (19,758).