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Panthers top Lightning in season finale

The SportsXchange

TAMPA, Fla. - Martin St. Louis asserts that he probably wouldn't have led the National Hockey League in points this season if Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby hadn't missed a quarter of the season with a broken jaw. He insists he would trade his second Art Ross Trophy for another chance at the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But he did, and he can't. And although it was bittersweet for him to try and enjoy his league-best 60 points after a season-ending 5-3 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday at Tampa Bay Times Forum, the 37-year-old was able to find some consolation in capitalizing on yet another opportunity in a career built on such.

"It's a thing nobody can take away from you, you know? It's in the books," he said. "I'm proud. I'm really excited about it. I'm not going to pretend I'm not, but like I said, I'd trade that for another chance to play in the playoff."

With the Lightning (18-25-4) long since eliminated from postseason contention in the Eastern Conference, St. Louis and Steven Stamkos' pursuit of individual, yet tandem, honors became one of the team's few remaining storylines before another offseason of remodeling the roster.

The veteran and the young superstar finished with a flourish, as St. Louis had a goal - off an assist from Stamkos, who finished with 57 points - and added an assist as the teammates finished first and second in scoring. The evening was otherwise forgettable for Tampa Bay, which coughed up a third-period lead to its cross-state rival.

Tomas Fleischmann scored the game-winner - his second of the game and 12th of the season - with 6:05 left on a cross-ice pass from Jonathan Huberdeau. The Panthers (15-27-6), possessors of the fewest points in the NHL, now focus on Monday's draft lottery.

St. Louis notched his final point of the season in giving the Lightning a 3-2 lead with his 17th goal of the season in the second period. His finish at the doorstep less than six minutes into the second period, pulling him ahead of Crosby. Teddy Purcell (25) also earned an assist on the sequence.

Florida tied the game 3-3 seven minutes into the third period when Eric Selleck pounced on a costly turnover by Vincent Lecavalier and fired a shot on a break that Scott Upshall converted on the rebound. The goal was Upshall's fourth of the season.

St. Louis doled out his league-high 43rd assist just five minutes into the game, controlling a loose puck along the boards and passing back to the blue line, where defenseman Matt Carle ripped in his fifth goal of the season.

Florida coach Kevin Dineen called St. Louis' feat "a fabulous accomplishment for a special player."

Ryan Malone upped the Lightning lead to 2-0 with 6:46 left in the first period when he wristed a rebound into an open net as Jacob Markstrom sprawled on the ice. Markstrom had fallen making a save of a Lecavalier tip in front of the net off a Victor Hedman blast from the high slot. The goal was Malone's sixth. Lecavalier was credited with his 21st assist, Hedman his 16th.

Nick Bjugstad ripped a shot over Anders Lindback's shoulder from near the blue line for his first goal of the season with 3:06 left in the first, pulling the Panthers within 2-1. Tyson Strachan (4) and TJ Brennan (7) had assists.

Markstrom had 30 saves. Anders Lindback had 27 for the Lightning.

Fleischmann banged in a slap shot just 54 seconds into the second period to tie the game off assists from Huberdeau (14) and Drew Shore (10).

Marcel Goc added an empty-netter.

"We finally found chemistry all together. I think it worked out tonight, " Huderdeau said.

St. Louis came to the Lightning in 2000 as an undrafted, undersized castoff from Calgary, became a star, an Art Ross, Hart trophy and Stanley Cup winner, but enters another rebuilding phase in Tampa Bay.

"We have to accelerate this process because Marty is 37 and we need to take advantage of him being at the top of his game," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "Eventually the clock is going to tick. It happens to everybody. We have two of the top scorers in the league and we aren't making the playoffs. That is where we have to turn that into winning hockey games."

St. Louis seemed proud he has maintained his elite play into an age range when most of his peers have faded away.

"I think as you get older, you always have to answer questions about your age and slowing down and so you're fighting those, you know?," he said. "Everybody, when you come in the league, you have to prove you can play and if you have a good year, you have to prove you can do it again as you get older. Everybody's got adversity and questions you have to answer, but I think the person you have to answer those questions to first and foremost is yourself."

NOTES: With 29 goals and 57 points, Stamkos finished three from the league lead in points (St. Louis) and goals (Alexander Ovechkin. ... Teammates have finished first and second in scoring 26 times in NHL history. St. Louis finished the regular season with 60 points (43 assists) and Stamkos had 57 (29 goals). St. Louis averaged 1.25 points per game, joining Hall of Famers Mario Lemieux and Gordie Howe as the only players to produce at such a level at 37 or older. St. Louis is the oldest winner of the Art Ross Trophy. Bill Cook, then 36, led the league in scoring for the New York Rangers in 1932-33. ... The Panthers have the best statistical chance of the top overall draft pick, which will be determined on Monday in the NHL draft lottery. ... Lightning LW Benoit Pouliot failed on a penalty shot 70 seconds into the game.
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