Florida 4, Tampa Bay 3 (OT)

By Bill Whitehead

SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers’ playoff hopes may be a fading memory, but the club knows how to do one thing well this season — beat the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Florida wasted a late two-goal lead in the third period on Saturday night, but defenseman Jason Garrison helped the Panthers to their fourth win in five games over the cross-state rivals, scoring with 16 seconds left in overtime for a 4-3 win in front of 16,607 at BankAtlantic Center.

Florida (28-32-9) held a 3-1 lead on goals by newcomers Ryan Carter and Niclas Bergfors, who both tallied their first as Panthers in the third. Tampa Bay answered with power-play goals from Vincent Lecavalier and Simon Gagne to send it to overtime.

The Lightning (38-22-9) entered the game fifth in the Eastern Conference standings and had a great chance to score in the final 30 seconds of the extra session, but defenseman Mike Weaver broke up a 2-on-1 rush led by Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, sending the puck back toward Tampa’s end and goalie Mike Smith.

Leading Florida’s own 2-on-1, Mike Santorelli slid a pass over to Garrison, who roofed a point-blank backhander over Smith’s left shoulder for the game-winner just as overtime was about to expire.

“I got up in the rush the first time and made a bad play,” said Garrison, who also has game-winners this season against Buffalo and San Jose. “Weaver made an outstanding play and was able to turn it around and get it back up the ice again. (Santorelli) passed it over to me and I was able to put it in.”

Carter, acquired in a trade deadline deal with Carolina that sent Cory Stillman to the Hurricanes, broke a 1-1 tie 2:22 into the third period by firing a long shot above the high slot past Smith while leading a 3-on-2 rush. “Scoring’s a bonus, but at the end of the day we won the game,” Carter said. “We competed hard, from (goalie Scott Clemmensen) on out. It was a fun game.”

Florida gained the services of Bergfors in a trade that sent Radek Dvorak to the Atlanta Thrashers. Bergfors, who has had good chances in his previous six games with the Panthers, put in a shot that trickled past Smith at 5:15 for a 3-1 advantage. “We let them back in it, but we showed at the end that we were the better team today. We wanted it more. We stayed competitive. They may have been a little bit tired, and we took advantage of it,” the Swedish right winger said of the Lightning, who dropped a 2-1 decision to Ottawa on Friday.

“I’ve been struggling a little bit in shooting the puck, but I should get some confidence back (from scoring),” Bergfors said.

Added Florida coach Pete DeBoer: “We did a lot of good things but turned around and shot ourselves in the foot a few times. The result was the right one. I thought we deserved to win.”

David Booth scored his team-leading 21st goal for Florida, while Stamkos added his 43rd, tops in the NHL.

NOTES: Florida played in its league-leading 43rd one-goal game in the win over Tampa Bay…David Booth has scored a goal in four of his past five games. The Panthers are 12-3-5 in games when he nets a goal. Booth has also tallied 13 points (9-4-13) in his last 10 games against the Lightning…Florida improved to 4-1 against Tampa Bay, with the last four games all ending in overtime (three of the four in a shootout)…Goalie Scott Clemmensen’s win upped his record to 4-1 against the Lightning in his five career starts…Mike Weaver’s assist on Booth’s goal was his 10th helper this season, setting a new career high. He had nine last year with St. Louis.

By Bill Whitehead
NHLHS Florida Panthers Credentialed Correspondent
Twitter: @BillWhiteheadFL
Email: BillWhiteheadFL@hotmail.com