Sunday, December 28, 2008

Three of a Kind - Tampa Bay wins their 3rd straight

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Lightning's stars aligned for a 6-4 smashing of cross state rivals, the Florida Panthers in a game that was not as close as the score indicated. The Lightning's Vincent Lecavalier nabbed two goals and an assist while Martin St. Louis and Ryan Malone scored four points each as Tampa Bay won their third straight game for the first time in the Rick Tocchet era.

Steven Stamkos opened up the scoring at the 7:06 mark of the first, then, midway through the period, Evgeny Artyukhin on a rare power play chance powered home a goal on a 5-on-3 opportunity to give the Lightning a 2-0 going into first intermission. Tampa Bay outshot the Panthers a remarkable 21-3 in the first and it was the play of Panther goalie Tomas Vokoun that kept this one from being ugly early.

The second period got a little dicey for Tampa Bay. Usually their strongest period, it was the Panthers who showed some fire coming out of the dressing room as David Booth sliced the Bolts lead to 2-1 at the 3:09 mark of the 2nd. A little over a minute later, Vincent Lecavalier would net his first of the night to restore the Lightning's two goal cushion. They say the two goal lead is the most uncomfortable in hockey and Tampa Bay found out why. With Tampa Bay defensemen Matt Smaby and Paul Ranger off for interference and tripping respectively, the Panthers took advantage of their 5-on-3 advantage, getting a goal Nathan Horton at the 16:27 mark of the second period. Seconds later, the Panthers would strike again on the second half of the two man advantage, this time it was David Booth getting his second of the period and Tampa Bay's commanding lead suddenly evaporated. Vincent Lecavalier found a gift in the closing seconds of the period as he gloved a flying puck, dropped it quickly to the ice and blasted it past Vokoun with only five second left in the period to give Tampa Bay the lead going into intermission.

The Bolts reestablished their dominance (boy, its been a long time since I typed that) in the third getting a beautiful spin-a-rama goal from Malone to make it 5-3 and then a crazy goal by Marty St. Louis. St. Louis missed badly but stayed in front of the net, the puck ricocheted off the boards, right back to his stick and St. Louis dropped it past a thoroughly confused Vokoun to give the Lightning a 6-3 advantage at the 7:46 mark of the third. Six goals was a season high for Tampa Bay. Stephen Weiss' seeing-eye goal at the 13:57 mark sliced the lead to 6-4 but that would be as close as the Panthers would get. Tampa Bay killed off a questionable holding call on Ryan Malone and missed a couple chances at an empty netter for Lecavalier to get his first hat trick of the season.

"The last three games, I really feel guys are on the same page - the most we've been on the same page all year," right wing Marty St. Louis told the Tampa Tribune, "We're seeing it in the results."

Tampa Bay's third straight victory gets the Lightning to the 10 win plateau (finally) and shockingly gets the Bolts out of the cellar in the Southeast division with a 10-16-9 record that's good for 29 points. Despite their little surge, the Bolts remain 10 points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Lightning go for their season high fourth straight victory Tuesday night against the Montreal Canadiens.

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