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3 things we learned from Lightning’s win over Panthers

Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos combine for four goals and nine points as Tampa Bay ends Florida’s 13-game win streak.
Steven Stamkos (91) is congratulated by Lightning teammates Victor Hedman (77), Alex Killorn (17) and Brayden Point (21) after scoring during the first period of Sunday's victory over the Panthers in Sunrise.
Steven Stamkos (91) is congratulated by Lightning teammates Victor Hedman (77), Alex Killorn (17) and Brayden Point (21) after scoring during the first period of Sunday's victory over the Panthers in Sunrise. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Apr. 25|Updated Apr. 25

The Lightning are looking more and more like themselves as the regular season comes to a close, and Sunday’s 8-4 win over the Panthers in Sunrise was no exception.

The Lightning have outscored their past three opponents — Florida, Nashville and Toronto — by a combined 22-7.

“This is the season of ebbs and flows,” coach Jon Cooper said. “We just went through a stretch where we lost a 1-0 game in Dallas and we barely scored (two games) before that (a 2-1 overtime loss to Boston). So everybody’s like, ‘Where’s the offense?’ and, well, there it is. Now you’re seeing it.”

The victory, the Lightning’s fifth in six games, ended the Panthers’ 13-game winning streak and evened the season series at two games apiece.

“We knew the streak they were on, and we wanted to come here and we wanted to be the ones that ended it,” said forward Nick Paul, who had two goals, one of them for the highlight reel. “That all comes in play at the end of the season, playoffs around the corner. It’s a big test for us, and we wanted to go out there and play hard and get this one.”

The Lightning (49-22-8, 106 points) stayed in third in the Atlantic Division, remaining five points behind the second-place Maple Leafs, who beat the Capitals in a shootout. Tampa Bay has three games left, Toronto two.

The Panthers, with 120 points, already have clinched the division title.

“This is a pretty electrifying opponent,” Cooper said. “They’d punch, we would counterpunch, and in the end, we hit them a few more times.”

Here are three things we learned from the Lightning’s win.

A welcome respite

With three games remaining before the playoffs begin, the Lightning are resting players where and when they can.

Forward Anthony Cirelli sat out Sunday, resulting in Tampa Bay going with 11 forwards and seven defensemen for the third straight game. Forward Brayden Point missed Thursday’s game against the Maple Leafs with a lower-body injury, and forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare sat out Saturday against the Predators.

With an extra defenseman in the lineup, Cal Foote has taken advantage of his extra time on the ice. He scored his second goal of the season with just over five minutes remaining in the first period, giving the Lightning a 3-1 lead.

Top players clicking at right time

The Lightning’s slump earlier this month prompted questions about their ability to advance far in the postseason. But Sunday’s game showed that they have plenty of gas left in the tank for a third straight Stanley Cup run.

Ten skaters found the score sheet, led by forward Nikita Kucherov with five points, including two goals. Forward Steven Stamkos and defenseman Victor Hedman each had four points — Stamkos had two goals — and Paul, Point (one goal) and Brandon Hagel had two points apiece.

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Stamkos extended his multipoint-game streak to six. He has five goals and 12 assists since the Lightning’s overtime win over the Ducks on April 14.

Kucherov has scored at least one goal in 10 of his past 12 games.

“Everyone’s doing their role, and everyone’s bringing their best game,” Paul said. “It’s huge down the stretch right now, especially with the playoffs right around the corner. Everyone’s stepping up, and it’s just showing in how we’re playing.”

Paul continues to impress

Weeks after his spectacular between-the-legs pass set up a Ross Colton goal, Paul again turned heads and dropped jaws with a highlight-reel goal just over five minutes into the second period.

With the score tied at 3 and just under a minute remaining in a Panthers power play, Hagel beat Florida forward Aleksander Barkov down the ice in a race to the puck. From below the Florida goal line, Hagel made a backhand pass to the trailing Paul. Paul played the puck back through his legs as he skated through the slot and beat goaltender Spencer Knight with a shot from between his legs.

“Those are things I usually do in practice, but I just got here (to Tampa), so they haven’t seen too much of that,” Paul said. “I don’t know, just pulled it out of the bag, and I think (the team) liked it.”

Paul scored his second goal of the game just over seven minutes later, as his pass for forward Alex Killorn was knocked into the net by Knight, who was replaced by Sergei Bobrovsky following the goal.

Contact Mari Faiello at Follow @faiello_mari.

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