Stamkos, Callahan strike for Lightning in win
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Lightning ended a five-game losing streak with two celebrated first goals, overcoming a rough start and then holding on for a 5-4 win Thursday night over the Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Lightning center Steven Stamkos scored his first goal since returning from a four-month absence with a broken leg, and the home crowd also cheered as right winger Ryan Callahan got his first goal with the Lightning after joining the team from the New York Rangers last week.
There was plenty to celebrate as the Lightning completed a 4-0 sweep of their in-state rivals.
“It was great. Right from when I got here, they’ve seemed to embrace me, but to hear the cheer after my first goal, that’s a good feeling,” Callahan said. “It’s good to get that one out of the way and as a team to get that first win done with, and now you can move on.”
The two teams combined for four goals in the first nine minutes, needing less than two minutes to get the scoring started. Tampa Bay (35-24-7) shook its recent penchant for losing late leads, and Florida (24-35-7) has the opposite record after allowing three-plus goals for the seventh time in eight games since the Olympic break.
“We have two more points than we had two and a half hours ago,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “That’s all that matters. We made a couple big mistakes at the end, but fortunately, when you have a three-goal lead, you get away with those.”
Tampa Bay center Tom Pyatt was called for hooking just 1:14 into the game, and 30 seconds later, Florida had a power-play goal from left winger Tomas Fleischmann, his seventh goal of the season, for a 1-0 lead. The Lightning penalty-killing unit had allowed just one goal in its previous 16 times.
The Lightning answered, however, as defenseman Sami Salo blasted a shot from just outside the circle for his third goal of the season with 14:22 left in the first. Just 12 seconds later, Florida had the lead again after center Quinton Howden, a 22-year-old making his season debut, scored his first NHL goal with 14:10 left for a 2-1 lead.
Again, the Lightning countered quickly, with defenseman Michael Kostka scoring the equalizer with 11:42 left for his third goal of the year.
After allowing two goals in his first seven shots, Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop settled down.
The Lightning took control of the game with two goals in the second period. Callahan, acquired from the Rangers for captain Martin St. Louis, redirected a pass from left winger Ondrej Palat for a 3-2 lead with 7:56 left in the second period. It was Callahan’s 12th goal of the season but his first with the Lightning, drawing loud cheers from the home crowd.
With momentum on their side, the Lightning went up 4-2 on center Alex Killorn’s 16th goal of the season with just 1:07 left in the second period, taking pressure off a Tampa Bay team that had given up leads consistently in its five-game losing streak.
That did not take away from the excitement when Stamkos scored on a power play midway through the third period for his 15th goal of the season and first since returning from a broken leg last week.
“As long as we’re winning, I think everyone in this room is happy,” Stamkos said. “We could have easily put our tail between our legs after they scored those two quick goals (early). I thought for the most part we played a good game and deserved to win today.”
Florida added two goals in the final 1:05, first from right winger Scottie Upshall, his 12th goal of the season, and then with 26 seconds left on center Brandon Pirri’s eighth of the year.
Florida, pulling the goalie for a final shot at tying the score, did not get a shot on goal.
“We had a lot of new faces. I thought Howds played a great game. (Center Vincent) Trocheck’s playing a lot of minutes for us,” Upshall said. “Our team game can be better. We need to learn how to play 2-2 games instead of letting them get away from us.”
NOTES: Both teams have come back from the Olympic break in rough fashion -- the Lightning are 1-4-2 in two weeks since and the Panthers are 2-5. Both teams have allowed at least three goals in six of their seven games. ... Tampa Bay C Steven Stamkos played in his fourth game after missing nearly four months with a broken leg. He went without a point in the first three games, his longest stretch without a point since March 2012. ... The Panthers’ two-goal first period came after a dry stretch where the team totaled six goals in four games, its lowest-scoring four-game span of the season. ... Both teams have the New Jersey Devils next, with the Panthers returning home to host the Devils on Friday and the Lightning hosting them on Saturday night. Tampa Bay is in the middle of a six-game homestand.