SUNRISE, Fla. – Jason Garrison rarely scores, but when he does it’s usually important.
The defenceman scored 4:44 into overtime to lift the Florida Panthers to a 4-3 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.
For Garrison, who was playing in his 100th career game, it was his fourth goal of the season and the third game-winner. He previously scored decisive goals against Buffalo and San Jose.
Vincent Lecavalier and Simon Gagne scored in the third period for Tampa Bay to erase a 3-1 deficit, but Garrison’s fourth goal of the season gave the Panthers their fourth win in five games against the Lightning.
It was also the seventh of the last 11 meetings between the Southeast Division rivals that has come down to one goal, with four of the last six extended to a shootout.
“They’ve all gone to one-goal games and we’ve had a successful road against them,” Garrison said. “Obviously, we see them a lot throughout the year and it’s good for the fans…and it’s definitely a good one out there on the ice.”
Ryan Carter and Niclas Bergfors each scored their first goals for Florida as the Panthers gained a two-goal cushion earlier in the third period.
Carter, acquired in the Cory Stillman trade with Carolina; and Bergfors, dealt from Atlanta in the Radek Dvorak deal late last month, scored 2:56 apart.
Bergfors was in the box for high sticking when Tampa Bay came through with the equalizer on Gagne’s shot that first hit the post and then deflected into the net off Scott Clemmensen with 2:05 left in regulation.
“We nearly gave them the game but I’m glad we got the win,” Bergfors said.
The loss sent the Lightning, who are battling with Washington for the top spot in the Southeast Division, to their sixth loss in the last seven games.
“The only thing you can ask of this team is to play hard and keep doing what they’re doing. Obviously we all have to do more,” said Tampa Bay RW Martin St. Louis.
Carter took possession deep in the Tampa Bay end, weaved down the centre of the ice and found the five-hole against back-up goalie Mike Smith to make it 2-1 before Bergfors tucked one past Smith for the two-goal advantage.
“That’s a talented team with guys that can score so to give up a two-goal lead like that and not lose your marbles, stay in the game and be able to finish it, that says a lot about the guys in here right now,” Carter said. Tampa Bay cut the deficit to 3-2 when Lecavalier scored his 17th goal with Garrison serving a double-minor for high sticking midway through the period.
Clemmensen, getting the start over Tomas Vokoun, faced a barrage late as the Lightning was able to force the overtime session. Tampa Bay outshot the Panthers, 38-27.
“All the top teams are living the same thing. Today we fought all game and made it happen but it took everything he had,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said.
David Booth, who entered with three goals and an assist against Tampa Bay this season, gave Florida the early lead with his team-leading 21st tally at 4:33 of the second period.
Booth took a pass from Mike Weaver just inside the blue line and beat Smith to the glove side. Booth has scored in four of his last five games.
The Lightning’s Steven Stamkos provided the equalizer less than 10 minutes later after Florida had escaped a five-on-three disadvantage for 33 seconds.
Just seconds after Booth had left the penalty box for high sticking, Stamkos blasted a one-timer past Florida back-up Scott Clammensen from the top of the left circle for the power-play goal at the 14:10 mark. Stamkos, who has scored 23 goals on the road this season (20 at home), extended his points streak to four games. He is 2-3-5 over that stretch.
The Panthers were unable to convert on four power-play opportunities over the first two periods, while Florida allowed three power-play goals for the first time this season.
“We did a lot of good things and then turned around and shot ourselves in the foot a few times, but I think the result was the right one,” Florida coach Peter DeBoer said.
NOTES: Tampa Bay RW Martin St. Louis took the ice for his 459th straight game on Saturday. It is the fourth longest active consecutive games streak in the league… Garrison played in his 100th NHL game … Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun did not play. He is 2-0-1 mark against the Lightning this season … Tampa Bay G Dwayne Roloson was also benched. He is 3-3-1 in his last seven games.