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TAMPA (The Sports Xchange) — The Tampa Bay Lightning extended their season-long winning streak to five games, getting two goals from right winger Nikita Kucherov and holding off the Florida Panthers with a 3-1 win on Sunday night at Amalie Arena.
Tampa Bay (24-17-4) saw goaltender Ben Bishop take a shutout into the third period, and Florida (26-14-5) finally ended a 151-minute scoreless streak with center Nick Bjugstad’s goal at 8:06 of the third.
Tampa Bay sealed the win with an empty-net goal by Kucherov with 1:24 left in the game.
“When you start stringing a few together, all the sudden your confidence starts going … you win a few in a row, you think you can win every single game,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “The more we’ve won, that’s how it’s felt on the bench.”
The Panthers, trailing 2-0 in the third period, pulled within a goal with 11:54 left, when Lightning left winger Ondrej Palat lost his footing and the puck in the Lightning zone. Panthers left winger Jussi Jokinen fed the puck to Bjugstad, who shot and then scored off his own rebound for his eighth goal of the season.
The goal came just 28 seconds after Tampa Bay center Cedric Paquette and Florida center Derek MacKenzie each drew five-minute penalties for fighting.
The Lightning followed the goal with a delay penalty against center Valtteri Filppula for flipping the puck over the glass just 42 seconds later, but Bishop and the penalty-kill unit held off a difficult power play to preserve the one-goal lead. Bishop, who was coming off a shutout in Tuesday’s 4-0 win at Colorado, stopped 26 of the 27 shots he faced.
“(Power play) hurt us during the winning streak, and now it’s hurting us. We have to fix it somehow,” Panthers right winger Jaromir Jagr said after his team went 0-for-5 on the power play.
Tampa Bay scored twice in the second period while piling up 15 shots. Kucherov fired a long shot to the top right corner to beat goaltender Roberto Luongo with 15:39 left in the period for a 1-0 lead on his 17th goal of the season.
“Every time we win a game, we get confidence,” Kucherov said. “You can see we have a lot of guys now that can score goals and get points, and that’s nice to see.”
Then, late in the period, the Lightning scored on a rebound as defenseman Jason Garrison’s shot was deflected over the goal, and as it bounced past the far side of the net, defenseman Andrej Sustr poked it around the post and past Luongo for a 2-0 lead with 1:30 left in the second. It was Sustr’s second goal of the season.
Tampa Bay was able to kill off three Panthers power plays in the first two periods, with Bishop stopping all 13 shots entering the final period.
Florida was shut out 6-0 on Wednesday in a loss at Calgary, and that came after they were shut out in the final two periods and overtime in a 3-2 loss to Vancouver. All told, the Panthers had a 143-minute scoring drought at the end of the second period.
“We had a lot of opportunities, but we were pretty lackluster on most of them,” Bjugstad said. “Times where we could have changed the game, changed the momentum, we couldn’t find it.”
NOTES: Lightning C Brian Boyle was a scratch with a lower-body injury, having hurt himself blocking a shot in Friday’s win against Pittsburgh. … Tampa Bay went with 12 forwards, with C Jonathan Marchessault and RW Erik Condra getting to play after being healthy scratches Friday. D Matthew Carle was a healthy scratch. … The Panthers were again without D Aaron Ekblad (concussion) and C Dave Bolland (lower body) on Sunday. LW Shawn Thornton was a healthy scratch. … The Lightning continue a four-game home stand on Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers, while the Panthers return home for the same Edmonton team Monday to open a four-game home stand of their own.