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Stamkos' hat trick powers Lightning past Panthers

by Lonnie Herman /

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning played their home opener Thursday and celebrated in style, dispatching the Florida Panthers 7-2 at Tampa Bay Times Forum behind a hat trick and an assist from Steven Stamkos.

They were the first three goals of the season for Stamkos, who had two assists in the first three games.

"To be perfectly honest, I think this might be the first time I didn't worry about not having scored," Stamkos said. "Usually I do. If I didn't score one goal, sometimes I have trouble sleeping, thinking about what I should have done. I just kind of had an eerie feeling that tonight was going to be a good night."

Stamkos got one goal in each period, a shorthanded score in the first, an even-strength goal in the second, and a power-play goal in the third. It was his sixth career hat trick.

"He played 200 feet and he's been doing it since the beginning of the year," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "He has that mindset of playing both ends of the ice and it is fun to watch. Not only was he scoring but he was a physical force out there tonight. He was dictating where he wanted to be and when he wanted the puck."

Valtteri Filppula chipped in with two goals 2:36 apart in the third period. His first, a power-play score, came on a shot from the high slot that Panthers goaltender Jacob Markstrom missed; the second went through Markstrom's five-hole and sent him to the bench at 9:14 with 18 saves on 24 shots.

Scott Clemmensen came on in relief but was quickly victimized by Stamkos, who completed his hat trick with blast from the right circle at 12:25. Sami Salo earned his second assist and Teddy Purcell collected his third.

"They were just rolling and you could tell, they kept putting themselves in position to score without sacrificing the other end," Cooper said.

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop got his third win of the season with 19 saves.

Florida finally scored its first power-play goal of the season after 18 chances. It came 59 seconds into the second period and briefly put the Panthers back into the game, down 2-1. The close-in wrist shot by Brad Boyes, his second goal in as many games, was assisted by Brian Campbell and Tomas Fleischmann.

That was as close as the Panthers could come. Stamkos scored his second goal when he stole the puck from Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to begin a sequence that finished with Stamkos burying a shot from the circle to the left of Markstrom. Matthew Carle and Ryan Malone got assists.

Tampa Bay (3-1-0) stretched its lead to three when Bishop caught the Panthers on a line change and sent a long pass to Alex Killorn in the neutral zone. He found Ondrej Palat cruising in alone from the circle to the left of Markstrom, and Palat made his opportunity pay off for his first goal of the season. Bishop's assist was his first NHL point.

"I'm not looking for that but I'll take it when it comes," Bishop said of the assist.

The Lightning jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period. Martin St. Louis began the scoring at 8:13, one second after a hooking penalty to Florida defenseman Mike Weaver expired. St. Louis scored his second goal of the season when he popped a rebound over Markstrom from just outside the crease. Stamkos and Purcell assisted. It marked the first time this season Tampa Bay opened the scoring.

Stamkos got his first at 13:54, one second before Lightning forward Richard Panik would have left the penalty box. Stamkos, in the slot, redirected a pass from St. Louis behind Markstrom. Victor Hedman also had an assist.

It was the second shorthanded goal allowed by the Panthers this season.

Florida had its chances, especially early when Shawn Matthias, who was ill this morning and not expected to play, broke in alone on Bishop but couldn't finish.

Jonathan Huberdeau scored his first goal of the season in the third period when he took a lead pass from Scott Gomez and deked his way into making Bishop move and slipped the puck behind him. Kris Versteeg also got an assist.

But once the Lightning got their attack underway, there seemed to be nothing the Panthers could do.

"They smelled blood when we [were] starting to not respond to pressure," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "They kept applying it and we just didn't stand up to it.

"We've been our own worst enemy. We didn't respond well to pressure. Instead of responding to it and understanding it was coming, I think it created turmoil for us, and when that happens it makes it hard to find our synch."

For prolonged stretches, Florida (1-3-0) seemed unable to clear the puck from its zone and never mounted a strong counterattack.

"It was an ugly all-round effort," Dineen said.

Stamkos's four-point night was the sixth of his career. But he most wanted to talk about a teammate, rather than himself, after the game.

"It's too bad that Valtteri Filppula had to spend his career in Detroit with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, because people didn't realize how good he actually is," Stamkos said. "Now, they can see it."

Filppula said, "I guess I have to give him some money afterwards for saying that."

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