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Lindback helps Bolts continue streak against Panthers

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Lightning got goals from their three biggest stars Tuesday night. But it was their struggling goaltender who was the biggest reason they continued their mastery over their intrastate rivals.

Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier all scored, and Anders Lindback stopped 37 of 39 shots as the Lightning defeated the Florida Panthers 3-2 at BB&T Center, their seventh consecutive victory in the series.

After Stamkos broke a 2-2 tie with his NHL-leading 20th goal at 5:30 of the third period, Lindback preserved the lead when he stopped Shawn Matthias on a breakaway with 3:40 left.

"Phenomenal," Stamkos said. "A big breakaway save in the third. Hopefully, this gives him some confidence. The team has confidence in him and he showed it tonight. He did a great job of making the first save and not really giving much."

Lindback, acquired last summer in a trade with the Nashville Predators, came in with a disappointing 3.11 goals-against average and .894 save percentage.

But he had his best performance in a Tampa Bay uniform Tuesday.

"It's big for me," Lindback said. "That's what I need to bring to the team every game. It's going to be more of these tight games. That's my job every time to step up and give my team a chance to win. I'm really happy about that tonight."

Making the performance even sweeter for Lindback is that it came in his first NHL head-to-head meeting with Panthers goalie Jacob Markstrom, a childhood friend from the town of Gavle, Sweden.

Lindback helped the Lightning win despite being outshot 39-13.

"That's always fun," Lindback said of beating Markstrom. "It was a tough game for him. We made two great plays in the beginning. I didn't think he really had any chance on those. And then I know how hard it is standing out there getting no shots and [he] didn't really get a chance to get into the game. That's a strength for us, too, to be able to score on those few shots."

Markstrom, making his fifth consecutive start for the Panthers, gave up a goal on the opponent's first shot for the third time in four games and finished with 10 saves -- the 13 shots allowed represented a season low for Florida.

St. Louis ended with a goal and two assists for the Lightning, who won for the fifth time in 19 games (5-13-1) since their 6-1-0 start. He extended his scoring streak to seven games (three goals, nine assists).

Lecavalier had a goal and an assist, ending a 10-game goal-less drought, and rookie Alex Killorn had two assists.

Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky scored for the Panthers, who came in with the worst record in the League and lost for the seventh time in eight games (1-5-2).

"Snakebit … I don't know what the word is, but obviously it's not working in a positive way for us right now," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "But my belief is effort makes a big difference in whatever you do, and if we continue to work as hard as they did tonight, good fortune will follow."

The Panthers' bad luck with injuries continued with Versteeg going down with an apparent knee injury midway through the third period.

Versteeg collided with Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas and immediately grabbed his right knee after falling to the ice.

Dineen said after the game that Versteeg was "pretty tender" and would be evaluated Wednesday. Dineen said he couldn't imagine Versteeg being available for Thursday's road game against the Boston Bruins.

The Panthers haven't beaten the Lightning since a 7-4 victory at Tampa Bay on Oct. 17, 2011. The Lightning won the first two games of this season's series, which wraps up with two meetings at Tampa Bay on April 2 and April 27.

Stamkos extended his goal streak against Florida to eight games. With Erik Gudbranson in the box for tripping after Markstrom stopped Stamkos on a breakaway, the Tampa Bay sniper scored from a sharp angle when his shot found its way between the goalie's legs.

The game was tied 2-2 after two periods despite Florida holding a 30-6 shot advantage.

"We told the players before the game most probably they're going to outshoot us because they're shooting from everywhere," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "But we've got to stay poised and we've got to make sure that we keep the game tight in our zone, which we did in the third period. ... And we kept the lead. And that was so important for our team. We did it the right way, too. That was a great third period."

Though he had no issue with the number of shots allowed, Boucher said he thought his team should have had more of their own.

"Yes, we do pass up too many shots and I've said that many times," Boucher said. "That bothers me a lot.

"That's the disease of skilled guys. You're overdoing it with the skill and grinding it less. That's what they did in the second period I didn't like. But the first and third periods were fine."

The Lightning, who came in leading the League in shooting percentage, took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission despite being outshot 17-3.

Lecavalier opened the scoring 1:36 into the game after getting a great no-look backhanded feed from behind the net from St. Louis. Alone on Markstrom, Lecavalier made a quick deke to his forehand to beat the Panthers goaltender.

St. Louis made it 2-0 at 17:48 on a pretty three-way passing play with Lecavalier and Killorn. After taking a pass from Lecavalier, Killorn skated in alone on Markstrom before sending a pass across the crease that St. Louis one-timed into the open net.

"We played a great game," Lindback said. "Even though they shot a lot, it was a lot from outside. It was pretty calm and I could cover up most of the pucks. On the other end, we show that we're really dangerous up front. We made some nice plays to score those goals. It was a big win for us."

The Panthers cut the deficit 13 seconds into the second, their fastest goal of the season at the start of the period and three seconds off the team record.

After a dump-in, Marcel Goc deflected Sami Salo's clearing attempt from behind the net and the puck went to Versteeg, whose backhand went off the outside of the net. But the puck went straight to Goc, who fed it back to Versteeg for the easy put-away.

The goal was the second of the season for Versteeg, who earlier missed 17 games because of a lower-body injury.

Kopecky tied the game at 11:24 after Jack Skille stole the puck from Nate Thompson behind the net and fed him for a redirect that went between Lindback's legs.

Tampa Bay's Cory Conacher and Florida's Jonathan Huberdeau, who entered first and second in the NHL in rookie scoring, were held without a point.

This night, though, was mostly about Lindback.

"Lindy, that's his game," Boucher said. "That's his game that he needed and we needed since the beginning of the year. He's had games where he was close, but there always something missing. Tonight, that was his game. He made the right saves in the third period, the key saves that a top goaltender makes. Great on his part."

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