Those hoping to see the new-and-improved Panthers on Monday were a bit disappointed. Tampa Bay got what looked like the old version of the Panthers.
No one wants that, of course, save for the Lightning.
Florida's strong play of the past few weeks disappeared for much of Monday's 6-1 rout by the visiting Lightning at BB&T Center.
Energized by three second-period goals, Tampa Bay took the season series for the second year in a row.
Tampa Bay, which has won five in a row, won the first three meetings between the two. Florida had won seven of eight before dropping consecutive games to Winnipeg and Tampa Bay by a combined 11-3.
“Things got worse as the game wore on,” said Peter Horachek, who was facing the Lightning for the first time as interim coach of the Panthers.
“They didn’t play with a lot of energy, conviction or resolve. ... It was probably the worst game since I’ve been here.”
The Lightning has been doing more than just surviving without the services of injured star Steven Stamkos as it currently sits third in the conference.
Stamkos is working back from a broken right tibia and hopes to return before the Olympic break. Tampa Bay is 11-6-3 without him in the lineup.
Although Stamkos has hurt the Panthers in the past, he sure wasn’t needed Monday.
Florida took the initial lead when Sean Bergenheim — who helped the Lightning to the east finals in 2011 — scored on a power-play goal with 1:04 left in the first.
It only took Tampa Bay 19 seconds to answer with Alex Killorn putting a soft backhand shot past Scott Clemmensen.
The Lightning didn’t waste any time in the second, either, pounding the Panthers with three goals within the first 12:07 to break things way open.
“This was a tough one for all of us,” Nick Bjugstad said. “We were all puck-watching; myself included. We didn't do a good job playing defensively. This team can put the puck in the net.”
Clemmensen, who had looked so solid during Florida’s season-best five-game winning streak, ended up surrendering six goals off 36 shots. “We left him out to dry,” Horachek said.
Tampa Bay made it 2-1 at 3:22 of the second when Tyler Johnson punched in a shot in front of the net.
Less than five minutes later, Val Filppula put the puck between Clemmensen’s legs with Martin St. Louis throwing a flutterball from 20 feet away not long after.
“Like all good players, if you give them room, they’re going to make plays and beat you,” Clemmensen said. “You have to be aware when they’re on the ice and take care of the puck.”
The third wasn’t real pretty, either, with Tampa Bay scoring twice.
The two conclude the regular season series March 13 in Tampa.
The Panthers lost defenseman Erik Gudbranson for at least a few weeks after he needed surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone. Gudbranson was struck hard in the face by a puck during last Friday's loss in Winnipeg.
Gudbranson could be out a month with the injury. He had surgery Monday afternoon in Boca Raton.
“We were just on a roll and you don’t like to lose players at all,’’ general manager Dale Tallon said. “It’s just the nature of the beast. It’s a bad break.’”
The Panthers replaced Gudbranson with rookie Alex Petrovic. The 21-year-old was a second-round pick the same year Gudbranson was the third overall pick at the Los Angeles draft in 2010.
• Winger Scottie Upshall left Monday's game with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Tallon said he likely wouldn’t know the extent of the injury until Tuesday.
“He’s going to get some tests [Tuesday] morning,” Horachek said. “We’ll see where he is.”
• The Panthers broke for the Christmas break after Monday’s game. The team will next practice on Friday at noon at the Coral Springs Iceplex. Admission is free.