Panthers Fall on St. Louis’ Milestone Night

TAMPA – Martin St. Louis made sure his 900th NHL game was one to remember, as he scored a hat trick en route to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 6-3 victory over the Florida Panthers in front of a sold out crowd at the Tampa Bay Times forum Saturday night. It was the first time the Lightning had scored six goals in a game this season.

It was his fifth career hat trick and his first since October 26, 2006, when he scored three goals against the Carolina Hurricanes. The milestones come just days after the 36 year old right wing scored his 800th NHL point against the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 24.

“Weird things happen in situations sometimes,’’ St. Louis said. “Of all the games I could have done something like this, it came in my 900th game, it’s fun, on a weekend night when my kids are here. It’s pretty exciting.’’

The forward has been red hot, scoring 10 goals and adding 12 assists over his last 18 games.

St. Louis’ first two goals came in a second period shooting gallery, as the two teams combined for six goals over the 20 minute span. Despite the barrage of goals, the Panthers were never out of the game.
His hat trick clinching goal was the icing on the cake for both him and his team, as he scored an empty net goal with just 21 seconds remaining in the game. His teammates on the ice held the puck until he had an open shooting lane, despite opportunities to score themselves,  in order to ensure that he would get the goal.

The two teams exchanged goals in the opening minutes of the first period, with Nate Thompson scoring the first goal on a takeaway just 1:37 into the opening stanza. Minutes later, at the 3:54 mark, Tomas Fleischmann scored his 17th goal on a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle.

Early in the second period, Vincent Lecavailer scored his 20th goal of the 2011-12 campaign. He intercepted the puck in the offensive zone and shot it on the top shelf, past Scott Clemmensen’s outstretched glove, making it a 2-1 Lightning lead just 1:42 into the frame. For Lecavalier,

St. Louis scored his first goal just two and a half minutes later, as he shot the puck from the right circle. Clemmensen made the initial save, but St. Louis corralled the rebound and went around the Panthers netminder’s  left pad, squeaking the puck in the net. The goal gave Tampa a two goal lead, up 3-1 under five minutes in.

The Panthers inched closer at the 7:06 mark, as Mikael Samuelsson, who has been red hot since the All Star break, scored off a rebound from the right side. The rebound came off another red hot Panther, Sean Bergenheim. It was Samuelsson’s sixth goal and his fourth in as many games. Over the past four games, he has compiled five points. More importantly, it made it a one goal game, at 3-2.

The Lightning got the goal right back, as the always dangerous Steven Stamkos scored his team-leading 34th goal of the year, making it a 4-2 game.After Victor Headman stopped the Panthers’ clearing attempt at the point, he was able to get the puck down low on the right side to Steve Downie, who found Stamkos. He poked it in past Clemmensen to make it 4-2, which was as close as the Panthers could get the rest of the night. Stamkos, who can officially be called a “Panther Killer”, has six goals in the six games between the in-state rivals.

At the 15:08 mark of the second frame, St. Louis scored his second goal, giving the Lightning a 5-2 lead.  Lecavailer came in from the right to left circles, passing the puck back to his right and St. Louis, who was on the doorstep and had an easy wrist shot.

The goal knocked  Clemmensen out of the game, and allowed Brian Foster to get a unique opportunity. Foster, who had never played above the ECHL level, and has split his 21 games with the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones and AHL’s San Antonio Rampage, was summoned by Kevin Dineen and entered the game in Clemmensen’s relief.

“It was good just to get the nerves out,” Foster said. “It was a really good birthday present. I’m probably not going to forget this birthday.”

Foster turned 25 Saturday.

Foster stopped the lone shot he saw over 4:52, before Clemmensen returned for the third period. He shined in his second stint between the pipes, all seven of the shots he faced before being pulled for an extra attacker.

“The second period, we just had a couple of breakdowns and the turnovers cost us there,” Clemmensen said. “They didn’t get anything unless we gave it to them.”

This was the first time in the 2011-12 campaign that the Panthers did not start different goalies in back-to-back games.

The Panthers will return home for an early morning Monday practice, before heading to Washington for a Tuesday tilt with the Capitals, who could overtake Florida for the Southeast Division lead with a win Sunday at Boston.

CAT BYTES:

Sean Bergenheim did get the Panthers closer, as he closed out the second period with a goal, making the game appear closer at 5-3.  It was a moral victory for the Panthers forward, who was booed from the start from the Tampa Bay faithful. Bergenheim was instrumental in the Lightning’s miracle run through the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2010-11. He signed a four year contract with the Panthers on July 1.

“I was kind of happy about [the booing],” Bergenheim said. “That shows me that they remember me. I’m just happy to play for the Florida Panthers. That’s in the past, what I had with Tampa. Now, I’m pretty [upset] we didn’t win this game.”

THREE STARS:

1. Martin St. Louis (TB) Hat Trick

2. Vincent Lecavailer (TB) G, 3A

3. Victor Headman (TB) A

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