Cats Head Home to Take On Canadiens Thursday Night
The Florida Panthers started their drive for the postseason in grand fashion. Chris Gratton, Olli Jokinen and Joe Nieuwendyk each had two goals to help the Panthers beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 8-2 on Tuesday night. Florida is eight points behind eighth-place Montreal in the Eastern Conference. "It was amazing," Jokinen said. "Everything went our way, but I think the main thing was the focus right there when the puck dropped, and we didn't change anything."
Nieuwendyk and Jokinen also had an assist for three-point games. Martin Gelinas and Joel Kwiatkowski had the other Florida goals, while Roberto Luongo made 32 saves.
Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Craig scored for Tampa Bay. John Grahame was pulled at 3:35 of the second after allowing four goals on 13 shots.
"It happens," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "We're mature enough to handle to that. Just look to the next game."
Tampa Bay went 11-3-1 over its last 15 games before the Olympic break. Florida was 6-6-3 over the same stretch.
"We needed to get off to a good start, and that's as good as it gets," Nieuwendyk said. "But just like we put the losses behind us, we've got to put this behind us too. We've got to get ready for a tough game against Montreal (on Thursday)."
Jokinen put the Panthers ahead 1-0 with a power-play goal 26 seconds into the game. He has five goals and seven points in four games against the Lightning this season.
Tampa Bay, aided by three straight power plays, had 10 of the next 11 shots. Luongo made consecutive in-close saves on Craig.
The Panthers went up 2-0 when Gratton redirected Mike Van Ryn's shot on the power play at 13:47. Gratton has six goals and 12 points during a five-game point streak.
Florida had only one shot during a 5-on-3 power play that ended a minute into the second. The Panthers, however, took a 4-0 lead on goals 28 seconds apart by Gelinas (3:17) and Nieuwendyk (3:45).
Gratton scored his second power-play goal of the game at 12:23. Nieuwendyk added his second goal 34 seconds later before Jokinen scored again to make it 7-0 at 14:48.
"It was nice to get good support," Luongo said. "You know, 7-0 in the second period. I had to check the clock to make sure it was right."
Nieuwendyk has 550 goals, including 17 this season.
Lecavalier had a power-play goal at 5:57 of the third. After Kwiatkowski scored at 15:59, Criag ended the scoring with a power-play goal with 2:32 left.
"We were just awful," Tampa Bay's Brad Richards said.
Notes: Gratton and Tampa Bay's Evgeny Artyukhin both received five-minute penalties following a fight midway through the third. ... Tampa Bay's Darryl Sydor became the 205th player and 73rd defenseman to play in 1,000 NHL games. ... Luongo has played in 28 consecutive games dating back to Dec. 10. ... Richards had an assist, extending his point streak to seven games. He has 10 assists and 13 points during the span.