SUNRISE, Fla. – With timely offence and solid goaltending, the Florida Panthers finally found a way to win on home ice.
Nathan Horton, David Booth and Cory Stillman scored in the first period and the Panthers beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2 on Sunday. Stephen Weiss and Radek Dvorak added third-period goals, and Scott Clemmensen made 29 saves for Florida.
The Panthers had dropped their last three games, all played in South Florida. Florida lost to Buffalo on Saturday night, Phoenix on Thursday and the Capitals on Tuesday night.
Steven Stamkos and Steve Downie scored for Tampa Bay, and Mike Smith stopped 35 shots. The Lightning have lost five straight and have won just two of their last 14.
Clemmensen got the start in favour of Tomas Vokoun, who was pulled from the Panthers’ 3-1 loss to Buffalo on Saturday night. Clemmensen also replaced Vokoun during Florida’s 7-3 loss to Washington on Tuesday night.
“He responded well,” Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. “He had a couple great periods for us last night and played well today. We’ve asked a lot of Tomas Vokoun this year. He hasn’t had a bad stretch the entire year up until lately.”
After a scoreless second period, Stamkos got a power-play goal to close the gap to 3-2 at 2:09 of the third period. The Panthers answered about two minutes later, when Weiss scored on a wrist shot from the slot to make it 4-2 at 4:03 in the third. It was the 100th goal of Weiss’ NHL career and his 25th this season.
“We really played with confidence,” Clemmensen said. “When they scored that second goal at the beginning of the third period, for us to come right back at them and score that fourth goal, that shows the resolve and confidence we were playing with tonight. I think in games past, that’s been missing a little bit. When we play well and play together we can do good things.”
Dvorak scored at 15:34 of the third to push Florida’s lead to 5-2.
Booth scored with 2:18 left in the first period to put Florida up 2-1. Byron Bitz and Keith Ballard had assists on the goal, Booth’s sixth of the season. Just 46 seconds later, Stillman scored on a backhander to stretch Florida’s lead to 3-1.
The Panthers tied it when they scored on the power play at 14:12 of the first. Horton, who returned to Florida’s lineup Thursday after missing 17 games with a fractured tibia, fired a slap shot from just inside the blue line, and the puck trickled through Smith’s pads to even the score at 1-1.
“It made a difference for us with Nathan Horton back in the lineup,” DeBoer said. “You saw his patience there, he was able to distribute the puck and it makes a big difference for our power play.”
Downie opened the scoring with an unassisted goal 6:04 in the first period. After Florida defenceman Bryan Allen turned over the puck, Downie beat Clemmensen with a wrist shot from in front.
“It’s an 82-game schedule. When 82 games are done, the good teams survive,” Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet said. “You can’t play good for 40 or average for 40. It’s an 82-game schedule. To be an NHL hockey player, you’ve got to play consistent for 82 games.”
NOTES: The Panthers and Lightning will meet again in a home-and-home series April 10 and 11 that will wrap up the regular season for both teams. … Panthers C Gregory Campbell was scratched because of a bruised foot.