TAMPA — The puck was on Vinny Lecavalier's stick, and the goalie was pulled. All the Lightning captain had to do for a hat trick was dink in a close-in shot.
But Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov raced to get a stick in the way, and the puck never got to the net.
"I thought I was alone," Lecavalier said. "I should have taken a peek and protected it."
It was the only misstep for Lecavalier, who scored twice, including on a penalty shot, to lead Tampa Bay's 4-2 victory over the Panthers in front of an announced sellout of 20,444 at the St. Pete Times Forum on Friday.
Tampa Bay (45-25-11) won the sixth of its past seven games and finished its regular-season home schedule tying the team's record of 25 wins set in 2005-06.
With 101 points, it passed 100 for the second time in franchise history. The 2003-04 team, which won the Stanley Cup, had 106.
Tampa Bay plays its regular-season finale tonight at Carolina, but it might not know until Sunday whether it plays the Flyers or Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.
It is certain, though, the series will start on the road as Pittsburgh's shootout win Friday over the Islanders locked the Lightning into fifth in the East.
"It definitely means a lot," Lecavalier said of the milestones.
"Think of where we came from the last two years."
Think of where Lecavalier was, too.
But with eight goals and 15 points in his past 13 games, the captain is, as coach Guy Boucher put it, "a complete menace out there."
Ryan Malone had a goal and two points. Pavel Kubina scored his fourth goal of the season and first in 28 games, and the power play, which was on a 1-for-19 streak, scored twice.
But that Lecavalier is heating up for the playoffs is quite a chip for the Lightning.
"He's always battling around the net," Malone said. "He's throwing his weight around, creating a lot of space for guys. He really wants it."
"It's all about how you feel and confidence," said Lecavalier, who has 24 goals. "Right now, I'm more calm.
He showed it on his penalty shot, avoiding the poke check of goalie Scott Clemmensen, deking Clemmensen to the ice and roofing a forehand for a 3-1 lead 1:27 into the second period.
"He's a force out there," Boucher said. "He's built up his game in terms of intensity and drive."
He slipped a bit with the empty net after what he called the "selfless play" from Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, who waited for Lecavalier to catch up.
St. Louis' pass was perfect. Lecavalier just couldn't avoid Kulikov.
"I got a little excited there," Lecavalier said.
What was that he said about being calm?
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 23 (St. Louis, Stamkos), 4:08 (pp). 2, Florida, Garrison 5 (Santorelli, Dadonov), 11:59. 3, Tampa Bay, Malone 14, 16:08. Penalties—Repik, Fla (boarding), 4:01; Ohlund, TB (interference), 6:52; Moore, TB (high-sticking), 16:32.
Second Period—4, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 24 (penalty shot), 1:27. 5, Tampa Bay, Kubina 4 (Malone, Downie), 15:06 (pp). Penalties—Bergeron, TB (hooking), 8:48; Wilson, Fla (holding), 13:37; Callahan, Fla (tripping), 15:47.
Third Period—6, Florida, Santorelli 20 (Callahan, Dadonov), 5:11. Penalties—Thomas, Fla (high-sticking), 2:32; Gagne, TB (high-sticking), 7:22; Kubina, TB (tripping), 12:10. Shots on Goal—Florida 9-9-7—25. Tampa Bay 12-14-7—33. Power-play opportunities—Florida 0 of 5; Tampa Bay 2 of 4. Goalies—Florida, Clemmensen 8-11-7 (33 shots-29 saves). Tampa Bay, Roloson 24-25-5 (25-23). A—20,444 (19,758).
Lightning will play Flyers or Penguins
The Lightning is guaranteed to be the No. 5 seed in the playoffs and plays the No. 4 seed, which is guaranteed to be the second-place team from the Atlantic Division. The Flyers clinch the Atlantic by beating the Islanders tonight. If they lose (in regulation or shootout), the Penguins clinch it by beating the Thrashers on Sunday. The Flyers win any tiebreaker.