SUNRISE - Steven Stamkos knows a thing or two about putting the puck in the net with the game on the line.
Being tapped on the shoulder in the shootout, well that's not exactly his comfort zone.
But in the fourth round of Sunday's shootout against Florida, Stamkos swung wide to his left, did a little shake-and-back and pushed a forehand shot past Jacob Markstrom for the deciding goal in the Tampa Bay Lightning's 4-3 victory in front of an announced crowd of 12,336 at BB&T Center.
Anders Lindback made the goal stand up by stopping Dmitry Kulikov for his first win of the season as the Lightning won for the third consecutive game and for the fifth time in the past six games, getting goals from Marty St. Louis, Radko Gudas and Stamkos, who has four goals in two games against Florida this season and 21 in 30 career games against the Panthers.
With an 8-3 record through 11 games, Tampa Bay set a franchise record for wins in October, and the victory was the fifth in a row at Florida, a building the Lightning notoriously have trouble picking up points in.
It only made sense, then, that a player who has enjoyed little success in a certain situation — Stamkos was 5-for-27 in shootouts in his career entering the game — finds a way to get it done.
“Obviously it's something that I've struggled with in the past, and practice does help just getting to try certain moves coming in,” Stamkos said. “So it was nice to see one go in and even nicer to help your team win in that situation.”
It also helped the Lightning overcome two blown two-goal leads, including entering the third period.
“We played a pretty solid road game (but) it's tough to cough up a two-goal lead in the third,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “But that's just something we have to work on.”
Tampa Bay was also forced to play nearly half the game with only five defensemen after Gudas was ejected with 7:09 left in the second period for breaking his stick across the boards in front of the Florida bench after he had water squirted in his face from the Florida bench by Scottie Upshall. Playing the second game of a back-to-back and starting less than 24 hours after the start of Saturday's game may have contributed to losing the two-goal lead as in addition to the additional ice time played by the remaining defensemen, the pairings were different nearly every time somebody went over the boards.
“Certainly it is a tough spot,” said Matt Carle, who finished with a game-high 29 minutes, 24 seconds of ice time. “We are all comfortable playing with each other, but you're playing different positions as well. Some of us lefties end up on the right so it does make it a little bit harder.”
The game seemed like it was going to be easy from the start for Tampa Bay.
St. Louis scored his seventh of the season 41 seconds into the game, converting a cross-ice pass from Stamkos for a tap-in past Markstrom. Stamkos then made it a 2-0 game with his eighth of the season at 4:35, putting in a rebound from the top of the right circle after Markstrom kicked out a shot from Ryan Malone.
Florida coach Kevin Dineen used his timeout to get things under control, and the Panthers started to make a push before cutting the Tampa Bay lead in half when Shawn Matthias finished off a scramble around the net at 13:48. Gudas would regain the two-goal lead when his wrist shot from the point deflected off Florida defenseman Mike Weaver for a power-play goal at 9:58.
The Panthers pulled even with goals 3:12 apart, with Nick Bjugstad deflecting an Upshall backhand shot at 5:39 of the third and Brad Boyes taking advantage of Ondrej Palat losing the puck deep in his own end, allowing Boyes to skate to the top of the crease alone before slipping the puck under the pads of Lindback at 8:51.
“They worked hard, they had a couple of looks and put it in,'' Lindback said of the third period. “We got a little unlucky on one there where Palat lost the puck, but that happens. The important thing is how you respond and I think after that we really shut it down and didn't give them any more opportunities to score.”
The Panthers did have a couple more prime scoring opportunities, but Lindback stopped Matthias from in close at 10:28 and another by Kris Versteeg 40 seconds later to keep the game tied and set the stage for his first victory since March 13 as he stopped three of the four shootout attempts, improving to 7-for-9 in shootouts in his career.
“He was stellar for us tonight,” Cooper said. “He stopped some big guys that they sent out in the shootout and that's what you need, you need your goalie to stand up for you to win the game and he did that for us tonight.''