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Burns: 3 Things we learned from blowing out the Panthers

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps Tampa Bay's 7-3 win over the Panthers on Wednesday

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

Wednesday was Martin St. Louis Night at AMALIE Arena, the Tampa Bay Lightning honoring their former captain and franchise all-time leading scorer on his recent induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

To mark the occasion, St. Louis' famous goal song Louie, Louie played every time the Lightning lit the lamp.

Fortunately for St. Louis and the rest of the Lightning, the sellout crowd at AMALIE Arena got to hear it quite often.

Tampa Bay scored seven times against the Florida Panthers to earn a 7-3 victory and pull back into first place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference at Thanksgiving by virtue of its win combined with Toronto's loss to Carolina. Seven different players scored for the Lightning. Five players - Steven Stamkos (goal, 3 assists), Nikita Kucherov (goal, 2 assists), Ryan McDonagh (goal, 2 assists), J.T. Miller (3 assists) and Victor Hedman (2 assists) - registered multiple points. Stamkos and Miller matched a Lightning season high for single-game plus/minus after going plus-4 against the Panthers.

The Lightning wanted to honor St. Louis for the way he played the game and the indelible mark he left on the franchise.

They did it the best way they knew how.

By blowing out the in-state rival Panthers.

Video: FLA@TBL: Joseph forces turnover and buries backhand

1. PLAYING FROM IN FRONT
At the start of November, the Lightning developed a bad habit of allowing the game's opening goal, necessitating them playing from behind for portions of the contest.

The Bolts were able to rally in most and continue piling up wins and points for the most part.

But it was a trend that couldn't sustain itself.

It was a topic of discussion in the Lightning locker room and amongst the media covering the team. The Bolts recognized the advantages of starting the game on time and playing from in front.

Of late, that message has sunk in.

For the third-straight game, the Lightning netted the opening goal in their 7-3 victory over Florida. Mathieu Joseph put the first number on the scoreboard when he took the puck away from Alexander Petrovic at the Panthers' blue line and skated in alone on Roberto Luongo, beating the veteran netminder with a backhander through the five hole to give the Lightning a 1-0 just :59 seconds into the game.

"It was one of those games where you get back from a long road trip like we talked about this morning, and we wanted to get off to a great start," said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who finished with his most points since putting up a career-high five points March 3, 2018 vs. Philadelphia. "Obviously Jo's goal, one of the first shifts of the game, got us going and guys had a good response game. I don't think we were happy with our effort for the first part of that Nashville game, so we wanted to come back in front of our home fans and play a real competitive game and just show how much we want to win."

Troy Brouwer answered for Florida 1:20 later to level the score 1-1, but Nikita Kucherov put the Lightning ahead for good at 9:22 of the first, blistering a one-timer from his spot in the right circle on a power play.

The Bolts never trailed Wednesday night.

Getting in front early was a big reason why.

"Right from the first shift to the end of the game, I thought we played pretty good," Tampa Bay forward Yanni Gourde said. "First period has been a struggle the last few games, so we need to fix that and I think we did that tonight. I think we came out really strong."

Video: Cooper | Postgame TBL 7, FLA 3 

2. NO LETUP
The last time the Lightning were on home ice, they let a 4-2 third period lead slip away against the Ottawa Senators, allowing four goals over the final 20 minutes to fall 6-4 in arguably their worst loss of the season.

There would be no such letup Wednesday night against the Panthers.

The Lightning held that same 4-2 lead after two periods and were wobbling a bit after Florida netted a power-play goal with 1:35 remaining in the second period to cut its deficit to two goals and gain some momentum.

Had the Panthers scored the next goal, the remainder of the game could have gotten dicey for Tampa Bay.

But the Lightning weren't about to allow déjà vu to strike.

Steven Stamkos pounced on a rebound from Ryan McDonagh's shot at the top of the left circle and shot over the glove of Luongo to re-establish the Bolts' three-goal lead just 1:30 into the final period.

Effectively, the game was over at the point, especially against a fatigued Florida team on the 10th day and fifth game of a six-game road trip.

"You've got to take advantage of teams when they're on a long road trip and a little bit tired and traveled long distances," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "It was impressive. Florida they really came out strong in the first period, but we kept wearing them down a little bit and you have to do that. You have to take advantage of teams when they're tired because there's going to be games when you're going to be tired and teams will try to take advantage of you and we did that tonight."  

Ryan McDonagh scored 1:51 after Stamkos' goal, and Dan Girardi netted his first goal of the season at 14:25 of the final period to account for the Bolts' seven goals. The Bolts never took their foot off the gas against the Panthers, and it resulted in a blowout win.

"It's tough to lose when you score seven goals," Lightning goalie Louis Domingue said. "I thought we were really opportunistic and we scored some big goals at key moments. I thought we just played a great game from start to finish."

 Video: FLA@TBL: Domingue flashes the leather on Barkov

3. ANOTHER LOUIS
While Louie, Louie played early and often over the arena's speakers, it was a different Louis who was making his presence felt in Wednesday's game.

Louis Domingue's performance against Florida will get lost in the seven goals the Lightning put up, but he was sensational again for Tampa Bay, allowing just three goals, including a meaningless power-play goal at the end with the Lightning ahead comfortably by five goals, on 43 shots to earn his sixth victory of the season.

Domingue's 40 saves tied a season high. He also made 40 stops in a 6-5 overtime win in Philadelphia on Saturday. The 26-year-old netminder was at his best, though, in the second period when the game was still in doubt.

With the Lightning up 4-1, the Panthers started to push and find their game a bit. Mike Hoffman had a great look at a rebound goal, but Domingue was able to stick his right leg out wide to stuff his shot.

Moments later, Aleksander Barkov got alone in front and targeted the upper far post. Domingue rose with his glove to meet the shot, trapping the puck in the webbing and holding it there for a few beats in a celebratory pose.

A couple minutes after that save, Domingue was called upon again, this time robbing Brouwer on the back post on what looked to be a sure goal.

If any of those three Grade-A scoring chances find the back of the net, perhaps Wednesday's game has a different outcome.

Or, the way the Lightning were scoring, maybe not.

Either way, Domingue was on top of his game and wasn't about to let the lead slip from his grasp.

"He's winning hockey games for us," Cooper said. "You've got to feel for him at the end there, we give up that power-play goal because a two looks a lot better than a three. But he's given us a chance to win games and he's played well."

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