By Dory LeBlanc
The duo of Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos were unstoppable against in-state rival Florida, with each assisting on each other's goals to put the Lightning up 2-0 through one period, and Stamkos picking up two more goals in the remaining 40 minutes of the contest. Free agent signing Vatteri Filppula added a pair of goals in the third period as the Bolts coasted to a 7-2 victory over the Florida Panthers in the home opener Thursday night.
Stamkos, the NHL's leading goal scorer since the 2009-10 season (187), notched his first of the year after redirecting St. Louis' shot with six minutes left in the first, while the Bolts had one second remaining on Richard Panik's high-sticking penalty, giving Tampa Bay their first shorthanded goal since March 2012.
It also gave the captain two points on the night as St. Louis put Tampa Bay on the board first two minutes prior off a pass from Stamkos as time expired on a Panthers penalty.
The lead was the Lightning's first in regulation this season.
Florida came back on the ice determined to get something going quickly, and did just that 59 seconds into the second period when Brian Campbell's shot went wide and Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas whiffed on the clear, sending the puck off the post. Brad Boyes pounced on the unfortunate mistake, and sent the puck high past Ben Bishop to cut the Lightning's lead in half.
10 minutes later, Stamkos scored his second goal and third point of the night after starting a shooting sequence by checking a Panthers into the boards, dislodging the puck, and teammates Ryan Malone and Matt Carle each getting shots off before Stamkos' laser from the faceoff circle flew past Jacob Markstrom to extend the host's lead to 3-1.
The Lightning's offense kept the pressure on Markstrom and it continued to pay off, as Ondrej Palat put the Bolts up 4-1 with a one-timer from the right faceoff circle with three-and-a-half minutes to go in the second period.
Tampa Bay's defense, which struggled infamously last year, was up and down for much of the game; at one point they held the Panther's out of their zone and away from Bishop, limiting Florida's shots to one in over 12 minutes of play, but allowed five in the final three minutes of the period. The Panthers again cut Tampa Bay's lead in half 3:48 into the third when Jonathan Huberdeau skated past Gudas for a breakaway that found the net to make it 4-2.
Thankfully, the Lightning continued to show flashes of brilliance offensively, with accurate shots from the faceoff circles or beyond, which kept making their way past Markstrom.
Filppula gave Tampa Bay their three-goal lead back, and extended it to four with back-to-back goals at 6:38 and 9:14 to put the Lightning up 6-2 with just over 10 minutes left in regulation.
Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen opted to pull Markstrom following Filppula's second score, and sent Scott Clemmensen in between the pipes to replace him.
The goaltending change didn't do much to stop the Lightning's offensive attack as Stamkos picked up his sixth career hat trick with a power play goal to put the game out of reach at 7-2 with 7:35 left.
The Bolts coasted the rest of the game, keeping the Panthers at bay, to earn the first win in the series; newly titled the Governor's Cup by Florida Governor Rick Scott.
Attendance: 19,204 (Sellout)
FLA - 21
TB - 7-17
FLA - 7-17
Three Stars of the Game:
1. Steven Stamkos
2. Valtteri Filppula
3. Marty St. Louis