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Lightning continue to dominate Panthers

The SportsXchange

SUNRISE, Fla. -- When it comes to hockey in Florida, the Tampa Bay Lightning rule the ice.

The Lightning (23-11-3, 49 points) made it three straight wins this season over instate rival Florida Panthers (14-19-5, 33 points) as they took a 6-1 win at the BB&T Center on Monday night.

The Lightning, who are cruising on a season-best five-game winning streak, have now won their last six visits to the Panthers.

"It's pretty good going into the break with five in a row," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "We're riding a little momentum right now and wanted to keep that going into Christmas."

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop won his 20th game of the season, which puts him in second place in the league. He's right behind Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has won 21 games this season.

"Our goaltending has been outstanding," said Lightning right winger Martin St. Louis. "He's been our MVP this year and without him we're not where we are."

Many on the Tampa Bay team, however, consider St. Louis the glue that has kept the team intact following center Steven Stamkos missing the last 20 games with a broken right tibia. Stamkos had scored 14 goals and had nine assists before suffering the injury against Boston on Nov. 11.

With one goal and two assists against the Panthers, St. Louis has scored 16 goals and 21 assists for the Lightning this season.

"I don't know if we've had a better player on our team since Steve went down than No. 26, Marty's been the captain and he's led the way and has been outstanding for us," Cooper said. "Marty's definitely put the team on his back of late. It's been great to see. He's leading us and he's a big part of why we've won five straight."

The Panthers, playing the first of a five-game homestand, arrived home to face the Lightning following a 5-2 loss to Winnipeg on Friday night at the MTS Centre. The defeat to the Jets snapped a five-game winning streak for Florida, which was the team's longest winning streak since March 2012.

Panthers left winger Sean Bergenheim put Florida on the scoreboard first when he took advantage of a power-play opportunity with 1:04 remaining in the period. It was Bergenheim's fifth goal -- and second power-play goal -- of the season.

The Panthers' power-play goal was only the 13th goal that Tampa Bay's penalty kill unit has allowed in its last 28 games.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, their first period lead -- and only lead in the game -- lasted for all of 19 seconds.

"It was probably the worst game since I've been here for sure," said Peter Horachek, who is 11-10-1 since he took over as the Panthers head coach on Nov. 8, 2013. "The first period wasn't so bad. But it just fell off from there one at a time."

That's when Lightning center Alex Killorn got passed Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen to even the score at 1-1.

The Lightning dominated the rest of the game as Florida unraveled further with each goal Tampa Bay scored.

"That was a big turning point for us when we scored on the next shift," Cooper said. "So then we go into the second period at 1-1. We smelled it and the boys went after it."

By the end of the second period, the Lightning secured a 4-1 lead over Florida. The Lightning took a 2-1 lead at 3:21 in the second period when center Tyler Johnson tipped in his ninth goal of the season.

At 8:01, the Lightning went ahead 3-1 on a power-play goal by center Valtteri Filppula, his 13th goal of the season.

"They just kept coming at us and at us," Clemmensen said. "It was only a matter of time before they started to pull away from us, which happened there midway through the second on the 5-on-3. From there on in, it was tough going for us."

At 12:07, right winger Martin St. Louis' snapshot from about 28 feet out gave the Lightning a 4-1 edge. It was St. Louis' 16th goal of the season and 351st since he suited with Tampa Bay.

To cap off their victory, the Lightning scored twice more in the third period, both by right winger J.T. Brown. At 3:40, right winger Nikita Kucherov got an assist on Brown's first goal. Brown came up with his second goal with a tip-in at 13:36.

NOTES: Panthers D Erik Gudbranson underwent orbital bone surgery in Boca Raton, Fla., on Monday. Gubrandson, who scored two goals and five assists this season, was hurt during Friday night's 5-2 loss to Winnipeg. He is expected to make a full recovery. ... Panthers RW Scottie Upshall suffered an upper-body injury during the first period of the game and was done for the night. ... Florida G Tim Thomas practiced without pain on Sunday after missing the last five games with a groin injury. Panthers coach Peter Horachek wants to give Thomas a few extra days of rest but anticipates he will return after Christmas. ... Tampa Bay D Eric Brewer didn't play Monday night because of an upper-body injury. Brewer left the game against Carolina on Saturday night with the injury. ... Lightning RW Martin St. Louis came into the game having posted 11 points (four goals, seven assists) against the Panthers in their last seven meetings. By the end of the second period, St. Louis added three points to that record with a goal and two assists. He's now scored against the Panthers in all three games the teams have played this season.
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