TAMPA — Over the previous three seasons, the Lightning have pulled out more than their share of late wins. But each team needs to build its own resume as well as its own confidence. And this year’s version is beginning to show that clutch factor.
The Lightning went into the third period of Saturday’s home meeting with the Panthers tied at 1. They played their best hockey down the stretch, scoring three third-period goals to win 4-1 at Amalie Arena.
Tampa Bay (17-9-1) improved to 7-2-0 this season when tied after two periods.
“That’s the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey the past three years that you guys watched, 2-1 games, 2-2 games,” said Lightning forward Pat Maroon, who opened scoring in the first period with his first goal of the season. “And we’re closing games out the right way. We’re playing the right way. And we’re sticking to the structure. We’re not just trying to chase the game. We’re sticking with it and we’re doing a full 60 (minutes) of it.
“We have a great hockey team in here and I think if we stick to the game plan everything will work out.”
Brayden Point scored the winning goal for the second straight game, giving the Lightning the lead for good 3:03 into the third period. The goal was his fourth over the past three games and his 14th in 17 career games against Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
After Mikhail Sergachev scored to make it a 3-1 game, Steven Stamkos extended his point streak to 13 games with his team-high 15th goal of the season with 3:15 left in regulation. Stamkos is now just four goals shy of becoming the 47th player in NHL history to reach 500 career goals.
The Lightning have now won 10 of their past 13 games, and have opened their six-game homestand with wins in three of their first four games.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Stamkos said. “It’s gonna be that way. It’s a really long season, we’ve had a pretty good stretch here at home. We knew we had to take advantage of that, and we’ve done that for the most part. So we’re looking forward to a couple more games and then see where our game’s at on the road.”
The Lightning spent the second period marching in and out of the penalty box, which kept their top scoring threats on the bench as their penalty kill unit logged nearly eight minutes of ice time in the period.
But once they were able to stay out of the box, their 5-on-5 play took control of the game in the third. Nikita Kucherov took a puck off the wall in the corner, circled back toward the top of the right circle and found Point skating open through the slot.
“That’s just getting good looks,” Point said of his success against Bobrovsky. “Obviously a heck of a goalie but tonight, Kuch makes a great pass and (Bobrovsky) almost gets over there. But I don’t know. Just lately things have been going well against Florida.”
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The Lightning’s penalty kill unit was 4-for-4 on the night.
“Sometimes when you kill (penalties) off, it can be a momentum builder for our group as well,” Stamkos said. “It goes both ways, right? If the power play’s not scoring, sometimes you get frustrated and sucks the life out of you. We’ve certainly been on that end before. When it goes the other way the PK can bring some life to the bench. Sometimes you can build off that and we did tonight.”
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy kept the Lightning in the game early, especially in an opening 2:14 that saw Florida take 10 shot attempts. The Panthers had nine high-danger scoring chances in the opening period.
“Hectic? It was a train wreck,” coach Jon Cooper said of the Lightning’s first few minutes. “You can’t give Florida chances off the rush and we had a couple plays where we’re trying to manufacture something out of nothing and they’re too good. We were fortunate that Vasilevskiy played a huge part of that first period. He was outstanding.”
Vasilevskiy (24 saves), who stopped the final 13 shots he saw after Zac Dalpe’s puck on net flew across the crease and hit off Sergachev protecting the far post and in at the 6:02 match in the second, has now held opponents to two goals or fewer in seven of his last nine games.
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