Olli Jokinen scored a goal and added two assists, and Ed Belfour stopped 27 shots to help the Florida Panthers beat Tampa Bay 5-2 on Tuesday night. It was Florida’s first win in three games at Tampa this season.
A victory would have pulled Tampa Bay even with Atlanta atop the division standings. Instead, the Lightning (86 points) are tied with Montreal in the last two Eastern Conference playoff spots, with three teams two points behind.
“This hurts. This game really hurts right now,” Lightning captain Tim Taylor said. “All is not lost. We have to remain positive. You never want a team thinking negative thoughts.”
Jokinen has six goals and seven assists in his last five games. He has three goals and seven assists against the Lightning this season.
Tampa Bay is trying to earn its fourth straight playoff appearance.
“We’re taking the long route here, that’s for sure, about getting in,” Lightning coach Tortorella said. “We are going to get in. We’re just going around the block. We’re going to get there. It’s a guarantee.”
Brad Richards put the Lightning ahead 4:54 into the second period. Jason Ward picked up a loose puck along the right boards and found Richards, who beat Belfour sliding toward the left post.
Florida drew even with a two-man advantage midway through the period, when Stephen Weiss redirected a rebound off the backboard past Marc Denis. The Panthers came in 0-for-25 on the power play through a span of eight games.
The Panthers’ Nathan Horton made it 2-1, and teammate Jokinen scored with 59 seconds left in the period to extend the lead to two goals.
“We sensed their desperation in the third period,” Weiss said. “They weren’t Stanley Cup champions by fluke. They have some winners over there.”
Lightning defenceman Filip Kuba cut the deficit to 3-2 with a short-handed goal midway through the third period, but Bryan Allen and Horton scored empty-net goals in the final minute.
Denis started both previous home games against the Panthers, allowing only three goals in a pair of victories. Johan Holmqvist replaced him after two periods.>
Notes: – Jokinen moved into a second-place tie with Pavel Bure on the franchise goal-scoring list with 152. Lightning RW Martin St. Louis had an assist. He needs two points to join C Vinny Lecavalier as the only Lightning players to reach 100 in a season. Lightning D Paul Ranger, sidelined since March 7 with a knee sprain, returned to practice Monday. He could return to the lineup this weekend IRL driver Danica Patrick, in the area for Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, participated in pregame ceremonies.