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Sports

Division success escalates climb

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 09:38 PM
RALEIGH, N.C. -

Mathieu Garon held Carolina off for two periods before Tampa Bay's youth brigade keyed a late surge Saturday night in a 5-2 triumph that lifted the Lightning into sole possession of first place in the Southeast Division.

The Lightning, who had won only twice in six road games, improved to 6-1 in the division while taking a two-point lead over the Hurricanes, who are 0-4 against Southeast opponents.

Defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron's first-period goal staked Tampa Bay to a 1-0 advantage through 40 minutes before Benoit Pouliot, rookie Richard Panik, Tom Pyatt and Steven Stamkos scored for the Lightning in the final period.

"They feed on odd-man rushes and we didn't give them much tonight,'' Bergeron said. "When we're solid defensively, like tonight, other teams get impatient. And when they do, we don't need too many breaks to score.''

Pouilot's sixth goal of the season put Tampa Bay ahead 2-0 at the 2:11 mark of the third period, but Drayson Bowman spoiled Garon's shutout bid 53 seconds later when he blasted a slap shot from the high slot for his first goal of the season.

Playing in his sixth NHL game, Panik restored Tampa Bay's two-goal lead with a brilliant individual effort. Ex-Lightning goaltender Dan Ellis stopped Panik's initial shot from the right circle, but the 22-year-old winger battered his own rebound around the net while maintaining possession before beating Ellis with a backhander.

"I was real excited,'' Panik said. "I think we played very well tonight, sticking to our system.''

It took only 18 seconds for the Lightning to complete their third-period barrage as Pyatt scored from his knees in the slot after a deft feed from rookie Alex Killorn.

Chad LaRose scored on a rebound with 3:49 remaining, reviving Carolina's hopes, but Stamkos poked Cory Conacher's centering pass past Ellis for the final margin as the NHL's highest-scoring club improved to 9-7-1.

Garon turned in several extraordinary stops in the second period to keep Tampa Bay's 1-0 advantage secure.

Carolina raised its intensity and the PNC Arena crowd became more engaged as the Hurricanes stormed the net. The Hurricanes had few odd-man rushes, but they pressured Tampa Bay defense, forcing Garon to make some key saves.

Six minutes in, Garon slid across his crease and robbed Eric Staal, who stared at the ice in disbelief. Midway through the second period, ex-Lightning winger Jussi Jokinen was denied by Garon while standing alone at the right post.

"It was a tight game until the end,'' said Garon, who made 32 saves. "It was playoff-type hockey and we didn't give them too much. Panik's goal to make it 3-1 was big. It was also one of the best first goals I've ever seen.''

The Lightning outshot the Hurricane 13-11 in the opening period and Bergeron provided the only score when his wrister from the top of the left faceoff circle sailed into the upper right corner of the net and over the glove hand of Ellis, who was well screened.

It was the first goal in 14 months for Bergeron, who has battled back problems for much of his NHL career.

"We had no depth two years ago and now we have tons of guys knocking at the door,'' said Coach Guy Boucher, who has seen the Lightning outscore opponents 32-20 in the third period.


ikaufman@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7833 Twitter: @IKaufmanTBO

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