TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Martin St. Louis made his case for NHL MVP on a night the
Tampa Bay Lightning clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
St. Louis scored twice in the third period, helping the Southeast Division
champion Lightning past the Florida Panthers 4-3 Thursday night.
Tampa Bay won its first division title last season. The Lightning had lost
50 or more games _ including overtime losses _ four straight seasons from
1997-98 through 2000-01.
``Good for them,'' Lightning coach John Tortorella said. ``You win your
division and now you win your conference. Two or three years ago, who would
have thought that? The credit goes to those guys in the locker room.''
St. Louis scored his second goal of the game and 37th overall from just
below the left circle off a pass through the slot by Cory Stillman to put the
Lightning ahead with 2:20 remaining.
``St. Louis, he's got the confidence that he's going to score,'' Florida
coach John Torchetti said. ``That's what he does.''
The Panthers had tied it at 3 on Lyle Odelein's goal from the blue line at
14:14 of the third.
The Lightning took a 3-2 lead earlier in the period on goals by St. Louis
and Fredrik Modin.
After Modin tied it at 3:17, St. Louis put the Lightning ahead with his
eighth short-handed goal of the season at 9:23.
St. Louis stole a pass from Odelein near the blue line and beat Steve
Shields on the ensuing breakaway. The NHL scoring leader with 93 points, St.
Louis snapped a six-game goal-scoring drought.
``I know my game hasn't been where I want it to be,'' St. Louis said. ``But
I'm looking for this game and this third period hopefully get it to the level I
know I can play.''
After the game, Lightning defenseman Brad Lukowich was chanting ``St. Louis,
MVP'' as he walked down a hallway outside the locker room.
Brad Richards also scored for the Lightning, who claimed the conference's
top spot when the Boston Bruins finished Thursday night's game with Washington
in a tie.
Around 100 fans remained in the stands watching end of the Boston game on
the scoreboard. They stood and cheered as that game ended.
``No one thought we would be where we're at,'' Lukowich said. ``We basically
closed the door and started leaning on each other, pushing each other to go
harder. We knew we had something special.''
Olli Jokinen and Donald Audette had the other Florida goals. Jokinen, who
also had an assist, has scored a goal in three consecutive games.
Tampa Bay backup John Grahame turned aside 29 shots. He stopped Jokinen on a
short-handed breakaway late in the second.
Shields had 21 saves. He made a point-blank glove save on Eric Perrin midway
through the second. Panthers starter Roberto Luongo, who has made an NHL record
2,277 saves in 71 games this season, served as the backup.
Jokinen put the Panthers up 1-0 at 4:31 of the first. He was left alone near
the crease and scored on the rebound of his own shot after a pass from Mikael
After Richards tied it from the low slot at 12:50, Audette made it 2-1 with
15.4 seconds left in the period.
Audette's power-play goal from in-close came after Odelein's shot rebounded
off the end boards.
Odelein has five assists and nine points in his past 10 games. He has 12
assists and 16 points overall in 81 games this season.