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Special teams lead Panthers past Lightning, 7-4

by Lonnie Herman /
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers rode their special teams to a convincing 7-4 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, while spoiling the Lightning's home-opener in the process at the renovated St. Pete Times Forum on Monday night.

Florida produced six special-teams scores -- five power-play goals and one shorthanded -- to set a team record for the most special-teams goals in one game. To measure the effectiveness of the revamped Panthers' power play, consider this: Florida now has collected eight power-play goals on the season after four games. Last season, the team didn't record its eighth power-play goal until Dec. 9, during its 29th game.

But as impressive as those numbers are, they might reflect equally on the state of the Lightning's penalty kill. Seven of Florida's power-play goals have come against Tampa Bay.

The defeat also propelled the Lightning to their fifth loss in a row -- territory they have not seen since Guy Boucher became the coach prior to the start of last season.

"We were undisciplined tonight," Lightning forward Steven Stamkos said. "Their power play really beat us tonight. We took too many penalties. It's a big disappointment."

That might be an understatement. When it was all said and done, Tampa Bay was whistled for 11 penalties, totaling 33 minutes of shorthanded hockey.

In a back-and-forth battle which featured multiple momentum swings, the Panthers turned back a furious third-period surge by the Lightning and rode away on 2 goals and 2 assists from Stephen Weiss, 2 goals and 2 assists from Kris Versteeg and 4 assists from Brian Campbell.

If a friendly crowd can pump a team up to maximum effort, the Lightning certainly had to be glad to be home as a raucous sellout crowd on hand for the home opener cheered wildly each time a Tampa Bay player touched the puck in the first period. The crowd turned silent quickly, however, when the Panthers drew first blood as Tomas Kopecky converted a power-play opportunity at 6:15.

The Lightning battled back and even grabbed the lead late in the first period on scores by Teddy Purcell and Victor Hedman, but the lead seesawed again when Weiss closed out the first period scoring with his first goal of the game and Florida's second power-play goal of the night.

As if the power-play onslaught from the Panthers wasn't enough, Florida also collected a shorthanded goal, an unassisted tally by former Lightning forward Sean Bergenheim.
Tampa Bay tried time and time again to salvage the game, coming within 1 goal of tying the Panthers when Vincent Lecavalier closed out the second period scoring with a blast from the right faceoff circle that beat Florida goaltender Jose Theodore short-side. When Stamkos one-timed a centering pass from Matt Gilroy into the Panthers' net to again close the gap to 1 goal with just under 10 minutes remaining, it appeared that these two cross-state rivals were heading to overtime, as they had for 5 of the last 6 times they tangled. The second goal of the night from Weiss erased those thoughts and the Panthers finished the goal-fest with another power-play score -- this time on a 5-on-3 -- from Jason Garrison.

"We did a good job with defending the heavy push by them,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "Obviously, the power play had an extremely good night. Tampa Bay is known for their power play so we really tried to stay disciplined and as much as it was the guys on the power play, there were a lot of guys who moved their feet to draw some of those penalties."

Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson had his second consecutive shaky outing, allowing 7 goals on 33 shots. But Boucher wasn't nearly ready to point a finger at the veteran, preferring to reserve judgment until he reviews the tape.

"That's a lot of goals and obviously we don't want that many goals, but before I blame the goaltender I want to make sure. This is a team sport," Boucher said. "We're not going to point fingers at anybody."

At the other end of the rink, Theodore stopped 35 of the 39 shots that the Lightning fired at him, while collecting his third consecutive win in the process.
But the difference in Monday night's game was clearly the exceptional play of the Panthers' special teams.

"It was definitely a special night for our special teams," Dineen said.
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