The National Hockey League's best third-period attack came through again.
Benoit Pouliot, Richard Panik, Thomas Pyatt and Steven Stamkos added to Tampa Bay's League-leading total of third-period goals as the Lightning beat the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2 on Saturday night.
The win was the third in four games for the Lightning, now 9-7-1 and first in the Southeast Division. Carolina fell to 8-7-1 and has lost three straight after a 5-0-1 stretch. Tampa Bay is 6-0-0 within the division; the Hurricanes are 0-4-0.
“Obviously we knew the consequences and you’re always looking [at the standings],” Tampa Bay forward Adam Hall said. “The focus though had to be breaking it down to what we needed to do, and the rest takes care of itself.”
Tampa Bay led 1-0 after two periods before blowing the game open in the final 20 minutes.
Pouliot doubled the lead at 2:11 after some excellent work by Vincent Lecavalier. Tampa Bay's captain controlled the puck and backhanded a cross-crease pass that Pouliot slammed into a half-empty net for his sixth of the season.
Drayson Bowman's one-timer from the high slot off a passout by Riley Nash got the Hurricanes on the board at 3:04, but the Lightning put the game away by scoring twice in 18 seconds.
Panik, a rookie playing only his sixth game, scored his first NHL goal through sheer persistence. He raced down right wing and fired a shot from the circle that was stopped by goaltender Dan Ellis. Panik got his own rebound and was stopped again by Ellis. But Panik circled the net, came out the other side and swatted the second rebound into the net at 7:37.
"I was real excited," Panik said. "I think we played very well tonight, sticking to our system."
Pyatt scored his fourth of the season at 7:55 by ramming home a pass from Alexander Killorn. Carolina's Chad LaRose fired home a rebound with 3:49 remaining, but Stamkos deflected Cory Conacher's pass behind Ellis for his 12th of the season with 2:22 to play.
“It was an important division game where we needed to establish ourselves on the road,” Lightning forward Martin St. Louis said. “We really needed to play disciplined within the structure and fight within the structure."
Tampa Bay has scored 32 of its 66 non-shootout goals in the third period. Pittsburgh is next with 24.
Mathieu Garon stopped all 23 shots he faced in the first two periods and finished with 32 saves.
“I thought he was terrific tonight,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said of his goaltender. “He certainly deserved the win."
Carolina coach Kirk Muller wasn't happy with his team's effort.
"We got outworked and they out-competed us," Muller said. "In a big game in our own rink, they outworked us. They wanted it more, and they won all the battles. If you don't do that in a big hockey game, you're not going to win.
"We got beat in our rink in a big game, and that's not acceptable."
The Lightning had several good chances while outshooting the Hurricanes 13-11 in the first period, but their only goal came off an innocent-looking shot. Defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron intercepted a pass by Joe Corvo in his own zone and raced up ice. He crossed the Carolina blue line, swung toward the boards as he neared the top of the left circle and threw a wrist shot on net that sailed past a screened Ellis. It was his first goal since Dec. 29, 2011.
"I told myself just to lay it there for the two guys going to the net and get a nice rebound for them, and it just went in itself," Bergeron told Sun Sports after the second period. "I'll take it."
Carolina outshot Tampa Bay 12-10 in the scoreless second period. Garon made his best stop when he robbed Hurricanes' captain Eric Staal on a tip-in try early in the period.
"Yes, we had shots, but we didn't get inside their [defense]," Muller said. "In all parts of the game tonight, we weren't strong enough."
Material from team media was used in this report.