TAMPA -- Martin St. Louis
made sure everyone at the Tampa Bay Times Forum would remember his 900th NHL game.
St. Louis celebrated the milestone with his first hat trick since October 2006 as the Tampa Bay Lightning
used a four-goal second period to beat the Florida Panthers
6-3 Saturday night.
Along the way, St. Louis extended his scoring streak to nine straight games, is the longest point streak by a Lightning player this season. With 27 points over his last 19 games, he has seemingly put the team on his shoulders and carried them back into the playoff race.
"It's only fitting," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "These people who deserve a lot and have given so much; nights like this are important for him and for our fans and for the organization. It couldn't have happened on a better night. He hasn't had a hat trick for five years and it happens tonight."
St. Louis would say only that, "It's nice to get on the scoreboard and help your team win," so it was left to captain Vincent Lecavalier
to sum up his longtime teammate's achievement.
"It was great," Lecavalier said. "He (St. Louis) played great tonight; he really battled, he deserves it. He had a great game, he really helped us out and obviously that 900 games makes it extra special for him"
Lecavalier had a four-point night of his own with a goal and three assists -- reaching the 20-goal mark for the 12th consecutive season.
opened the scoring at 1:37 when he blocked a shot at the Lightning blue line, collected the puck and skated in alone to beat Scott Clemmensen
for his third goal in the past four games.
That lead held up for just over two minutes until Tomas Fleischmann
converted a precise pass by Kris Versteeg
for his 17th goal of the season.
Tampa Bay broke the 1-1 tie wide open in the second period, scoring four goals on 17 shots, including two by St. Louis and the League-leading 34th goal of the season by Steven Stamkos
. Ryan Shannon
had two assists for his first points since Dec. 15 vs. Calgary.
The outburst briefly chased Clemmensen after he allowed five goals on 25 shots. Brian Foster
made his NHL debut in net for the remainder of the second period and made one save during his 4:53 of playing time. Clemmensen returned for the final period.
St. Louis capped the scoring in the final minute when Stamkos bypassed his own shot and set St. Louis up for an empty-net goal, his third of the game and 16th of the season.
Boucher was proud of Stamkos for passing up the chance to hit the empty net and feeding St. Louis instead.
"It's a tribute to the kind of people we have on this team," he said. "We have leaders who care about the group and their peers I was real impressed by what Stamkos did. He's going for the lead in the goal scoring race and to pass the puck just says a lot about the man."
The Panthers (24-16-11) lost for the first time since the All-Star break; a stretch which saw them play three games in four nights. This was the second half of a back-to-back after Florida beat Winnipeg 2-1 at home on Friday.
"I think today we were a tired team, and I don't think there's much else to it," said forward Sean Bergenheim
, whose goal in the final minute of the second period made it 4-3. "We've got to forget about this one and just move on to the next game. I think we're all disappointed, but let's not think too much about it. We worked hard."
But not hard enough in the second period, according to Florida coach Kevin Dineen.
"We had a tough second period," Dineen said. "We got off to a tough start and we were our own worst enemy. That was certainly the difference-the push they put on in the second period."
Tampa Bay's Mathieu Garon
had to make only 17 saves for his 16th win as the Lightning improved to 23-23-5 and 6-0-1 in their last seven games.
, in his second game back from a concussion, was on ice for 23:41 and had five shots on goal, three hits; five blocked shots and picked up an assist, along with Steve Downie
, on Stamkos' goal. With his goal on Thursday night, Hedman has points in both games since his return.
"Hedman had a monster game," Boucher said. "Blocking shots, hitting guys, being the first on the puck, separating guys from the puck and skating up the ice with it. He's turning into a monster."