TAMPA (CBSMiami/AP) – The Florida Panthers were struck by ‘Lightning’ in Tampa on Saturday.
Martin St. Louis scored three times in his 900th NHL game, Steven Stamkos added his league-leading 34th goal and the Lightning beat the Panthers 6-3.
“Weird things happen sometimes in situations like that,” St. Louis said. “Of all the games I could have done that, it was my 900th game. It’s fun. On a weekend night, my kids are here. It’s pretty exciting.”
St. Louis got two goals during Tampa Bay’s four-goal second, helping the Lightning take a 5-3 lead entering the third. The right winger, who has six goals and 16 points during a nine-game point streak, completed the hat trick on an empty-netter during the final minute of play.
It was St. Louis’ fifth career hat trick and first since Oct. 26, 2006, against Carolina. His last multi-goal game came in a 5-2 win over Ottawa on March 29.
“I feel like I haven’t scored, like two goals in a game in a long time,” St. Louis said. “It’s nice to get on the scoreboard and help your team.”
Nate Thompson and Vincent Lecavalier also scored for the Lightning, who have won six of seven. Lecavalier added three assists.
Florida got goals from Tomas Fleischmann, Mikael Samuelsson and Sean Bergenheim. The Southeast Division-leading Panthers were coming off a 2-1 win over Winnipeg on Friday night.
Florida has a one-point lead over second-place Washington. The Lightning, fourth in the division, are just eight points back.
“It’s a hard league,” Samuelsson said. “You have to fight for every spot, for every inch there. I shouldn’t say it’s a like a playoff, but it’s getting close to it. And teams are playing like it. You have to fight for every shift.”
Stamkos scored on his own rebound to give Tampa Bay a 4-2 lead with 7:24 left in the second. The center has six goals and nine points in six games against Florida this season.
Stamkos passed up a scoring chance to set up St. Louis’ last goal.
“That’s just a tribute to the kind of people we have on the team,” Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said. “They’re all unselfish and people who care about the group.”
Bergenheim pulled Florida to 5-3 with 46 seconds to go in the second.
Tampa Bay went up 2-1 when Lecavalier scored his 20th goal this season from the high slot at 1:42 of the second. The Lightning captain has reached the 20-goal plateau in 12 consecutive seasons.
St. Louis extended the Lightning advantage to 3-1 when he picked up a loose puck just outside the crease and wrapped a shot around goalie Scott Clemmensen 2:40 after Lecavalier’s goal. St. Louis also scored with 4:52 left in the second off a nifty pass from Lecavalier.
“We had a tough second period, to say the least,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “We got off to a tough start, and I think we were our own worst enemy. That was certainly the difference.”
Clemmensen was pulled late in the second after allowing five goals on 25 shots and was replaced by Brian Foster, who made one save over 5 minutes on his 25th birthday in his NHL debut. Clemmensen returned to start the third.
“It’s a really good birthday present, so I’m probably not going to forget this birthday,” Foster said.
Samuelsson cut Florida’s deficit to 3-2 on the rebound after Mathieu Garon made a strong stop on Bergenheim’s shot from the slot at 7:06 of the second.
Thompson put the Lightning ahead 1-0 during a 2-on-1 just 1:37 into the game. Florida tied it 1-all when Fleischmann scored from the right circle at 3:54 of the first off a backhand pass from the boards by Kris Versteeg.
(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)