By Walter Villa, The Sports Xchange
SUNRISE, Fla. - Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said his team was the best in the NHL last season in terms of rallying from third-period deficits, and the Lightning are back to their old tricks.
Benoit Pouliot scored 1:19 into overtime to give the Tampa Bay Lightning a 6-5 win over the Florida Panthers Saturday in a battle between the state's two slumping NHL teams.
On the winning play, the puck bounced off the end boards and right to Pouliot, who buried the fortuitous opportunity.
"It made a weird bounce off the side of the post or the boards - I'm not too sure," Pouliot said. "When I turned around and looked, the puck was right in front."
It was Pouliot's fifth goal of the season. Tom Pyatt and Marc-Andre Bergeron got the assists, and the goal capped a comeback that saw the Lightning rally from a 5-3 deficit in the final minutes.
"That's what I like about today's game," said Boucher, who pulled goalie Anders Lindback with 23 seconds left to get an extra attacker. "There was no let-up. Our guys did not get discouraged. We didn't quit or get out of whack. We stayed the same and grinded it out."
Teddy Purcell was the Lightning's hero in regulation, scoring his fourth goal of the season with just 12 seconds left to force overtime. The shot went off the post and into the net.
Steven Stamkos, who also had two goals in the game, and Nate Thompson got the assists.
Stamkos was obviously happy with the win, but he also seemed frustrated by the way Tampa is playing.
"Once again, we like to spot other teams leads, make it a challenge and come back," he said. "That's tough to do in this league. For whatever reason, we find a way to do it.
"But we have to find a way to being in control of games. We need to get the lead instead of having to pull a goalie and hope for a goal. We never quit. That's never in question. We finally got a bounce our way on the overtime goal."
With the win, the high-scoring Lightning snapped a six-game losing streak in which they never led in any of those outings. The Lightning (7-6-1) now have 15 points, which ties them for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and puts them in the fight for that last playoff spot.
The Lightning improved their road record to 2-4 and lead the NHL with 55 goals.
The Panthers (4-6-4), who have lost four in a row and have 12 points, were not happy with the one point they got from this win.
"We're not going to get into the playoffs with 48 points," Dineen said of what would be a one-point-per-game pace. "We need wins, but I will talk to the guys to make sure they are still confident."
Tampa Bay, which went 2 for 18 on the power play during their skid, was better in that regard on Saturday, converting on one of four chances.
The Lightning outshot Florida 36-30. It was the first time in six games that Tampa has outshot an opponent.
Shut out at home 1-0 by Montreal on Thursday, Florida wasted little time getting on the board on Saturday. Center Shawn Matthias scored on a tip-in just 48 seconds into the game.
Tampa tied it exactly four minutes later on the fourth goal of the season by Pouliot.
Pouliot, who was acquired from Boston on June 23, 2012, said he has made the adjustment to the Lightning. And Stamkos said he believes in Tampa's new winger, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2005 NHL Draft, by the Wild.
"He's a great player," Stamkos said. "He's big, he's strong, he's fast. He's got a great shot and he knows where to be.
"I've played against him for a while now. He may be under the radar to some guys, but for the team we know the contribution he brings. We expect that from him."
With 6:51 elapsed in the first period, the Lightning got their first lead in more than two weeks as rookie center Alexander Killorn scored his first career NHL goal.
Killorn, who played college hockey at Harvard, was Tampa's third-round pick in 2007. He got his first NHL assist Sunday against the Rangers and closed a memorable week for him with his performance against Florida.
The Panthers started the second period just like they did the first, getting on the board with 2:27 elapsed. Jack Skille got the goal, his second of the year. Matthias and Mike Weaver, the same players who collaborated with Skille on the team's first goal, earned assists.
Stamkos, who led the NHL in goals last season, broke the tie with 3:42 elapsed in the second period, scoring on a backhander.
The Panthers tied the score, 3-3, with just 4.2 seconds left in the second period as Jerred Smithson scored at point-blank range. It was his first goal of the season.
The Panthers took a 4-3 lead with 1:53 elapsed in the third period on a rookie-to-rookie connection. Jonathan Huberdeau got the goal, his team-high sixth of the season, and Drew Shore earned the assist.
The insurance goal came on a slapshot from Tomas Kopecky with 3:24 elapsed. It was his third of the season, and Stephen Weiss and Brian Campell got the assists.
Tampa got within a goal again on a score by Stamkos with 7:28 elapsed. It was his ninth of the season.
Lindback earned the win after he missed Thursday's scheduled start against the Capitals due to the flu.
Jose Theodore, who was sensational against Montreal on Thursday, wasn't as sharp this time and again took the loss.
NOTES: Panthers forward Kris Versteeg was scratched due to an upper-body injury. ... Up next for the Lightning are home games Tuesday against Toronto and Thursday vs. Boston. ... The Panthers end their four-game home stand on Monday against Toronto and then go to Pennsylvania for games against the Flyers (Thursday) and Penguins (Friday).