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St. Louis on verge of title; Lightning lose finale

by Lonnie Herman /

TAMPA -- The Florida Panthers and Martin St. Louis both got two points Saturday night.

Florida won the season finale for both teams by rallying to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-3 at Tampa Bay Times Forum. But St. Louis had a goal and an assist for the Lightning, giving him 60 points for the season and virtually assuring him of the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer.

St. Louis also won the Art Ross in 2003-04 -- the nine-year gap would be the longest between wins by any player in NHL history when the regular season ends Sunday. At age 37, he's the oldest player to win the scoring championship, displacing Bill Cook, who was 36 when he won it while playing for the 1932-33 New York Rangers.

St. Louis' assist came on the first goal of the game, credited to Mathew Carle at 5:00 of the first period. The goal, St. Louis' 17th of the season, gave the Lightning a 3-2 lead at 5:47 of the second period after the Panthers had battled back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game.

Steven Stamkos got an assist on St. Louis' goal, giving him 57 points and sole possession of second place in the scoring race.

The Panthers won the game with three third-period goals. Scottie Upshall tied it at 5:30, Tomas Fleischmann scored his second of the game with 6:07 remaining to give the Panthers their first lead of the night and Marcel Goc hit the empty net. Jonathan Huberdeau assisted on both goals by Fleischmann and Goc's empty-netter to briefly take the scoring lead among rookies with 31 points; Edmonton's Nail Yakupov had a hat trick later in the evening to tie Huberdeau's point total.

"Of course you want to win it," Huberdeau said of the rookie point race. "I didn't put any pressure on myself but it would be nice. It certainly would be great to win the Calder Trophy. For a rookie season, I'm happy."

A careless turnover by Vincent Lecavalier at his own blue line led to Upshall's tying goal. Eric Selleck stole the puck and raced down the ice. Anders Lindback stopped his shot, but Upshall buried the rebound for his fourth goal of the season. The assist was the first NHL point for Petrovic.

After Carle's goal put the Lightning ahead, Ryan Malone made it 2-0 when he found a huge rebound and fired it into a wide-open net at 13:14.

The Panthers (15-27-6) went more than 10 minutes without a shot on goal through the midpoint of the period, but they picked it up late in the period and got on the board at 16:54 when Nick Bjugstad scored first NHL goal in his 11th game. Bjugstad's shot from right circle went under the crossbar and over Lindback's glove.

"That was pretty exciting for me," Bjugstad said. "I didn't really expect it. I knew I had to get pucks in net. It's tough in the NHL getting shots so I just put it on net and it went in."

Jacob Markstrom stopped 28 shots for the Panthers, including a penalty shot by Benoit Pouliot 1:10 into the game after he was hauled down by Bjugstad on a breakaway.

Fleischmann tied the score at 2-2 on his first goal, a short-side goal that came at 54 seconds into the second period. Jonathan Huberdeau and Drew Shore got assists.

Both clubs were looking to take some signs of future success from their final game of the season, and both coaches found some.

"It was a nice way to finish it," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "They worked hard. We started well, we finished well. There were a lot of challenges in between, but we got a snapshot of our potential tonight. It was good to get that comeback and to still have some belief and keep pushing. And they're pushing in the right direction."

Jon Cooper, who replaced Guy Boucher as Lightning coach late last month, is seeking to alter his club's attitude. Tampa Bay finished 18-26-4 after a 6-1-0 start.

"We have two of the top scorers in the League and we're not making the playoffs," Cooper said. "That's where somewhere, at some point, we have to turn that into winning hockey games. It's great that St. Louis ends up getting this title and this award, but we have to translate this into wins. Next year, points are going to go higher or points are going to go lower. It's not going to be about who gets the most but about who gets the most wins. That's the mentality going into next season."

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