One minute Jonathan Marchessault was giving former teammate Andrei Vasilevskiy a shove in the chest. A few minutes later he really beat him up.
Marchessault, who spent three seasons with the Lightning organization, dealt a fatal blow to Tampa Bay as his power play goal in overtime lifted the host Florida Panthers to a 2-1 win Thursday night.
The win snapped a four-game slide for the Panthers who went 0-2-2 on their most recent road trip to western Canada and Arizona. Tampa Bay, which was thought to be the favorite in the Atlantic Division when the season started, continued its struggles as it has lost four of five.
Tampa Bay, which started this week in last place in the entire Eastern Conference, hasn’t won consecutive games in over a month.
“It’s time to turn the page away and just keep going,” said Marchessault, who signed a two-year, bargain-basement deal with the Panthers in July and has lit it up. Thursday’s goal was his career-best 14th of the season which only puts him second on the team.
“It’s a big win for us and the break’s going to be huge for us. Everybody’s going to get back healthy and come back strong.”
The Panthers once again got a stellar performance from goalie James Reimer after he was pressed into service when scheduled starter Roberto Luongo got “nicked up” during Thursday’s morning skate.
Reimer, whose wife is expecting the couple’s first child in the coming days, stepped in and made 31 saves.
Goalie coach Robb Tallas said Luongo — who sat on the bench and served as the backup — is fine and would play if Florida were scheduled for the weekend. Instead, the team is on the All-Star break.
“Everything’s under control back home. I’m just worried about playing the game,” said Reimer, who has won four of his past seven starts and has helped the Panthers get a point in six of those seven.
“You never know when it’s going to come. You just want everything to be good and the baby to be healthy. That’s the main thing you worry about. I figured that things were pretty safe at home, although maybe I should go check my cell phone.”
Florida got a big boost in overtime when defenseman Jason Demers drew an interference call on Tyler Johnson giving it a 4-on-3 power play chance.
It didn’t take the Panthers too long to cash in as Keith Yandle set up Marchessault.
Florida had lost its previous five games which went to overtime and is 2-1 against its cross-state rivals. The season series concludes in Tampa later this season.
“We haven’t had the success we wanted in OT and the shootout this year,” Marchessault said, “but we came out strong. It was a good overall game for us.”
Both teams scored their initial goals midway through the first period as it was a tie game again just moments after Florida took the inital lead.
With Alex Petrovic in the penalty box, Florida made it 1-0 when Jussi Jokinen scored on a short-handed chance as he raced in from the left side, took a pass from Vincent Trocheck and beat Vasilevskiy (35 saves) on an odd-angled shot as he slid across the goal line midway through the first.
The goal was just the second this month and fifth this season for the struggling Jokinen.
“[We] talked yesterday,” coach Tom Rowe said. “I thought he was putting way too much pressure on himself to get us out of this whole that we’re in. I told him to go out and play your game. I look at him as almost an extension of the coaching staff; he’s so smart. Hoping that goal will loosen up his hands and he’ll be able to relax a little bit over the break and then come back really ready to get us going.”
Nikita Kucherov tied things moments later as he cashed in on the power play chance by teeing off on a cross-ice pass from Jonathan Drouin.
After Thursday’s action, the Panthers and Lightning still remain closer to last in the east than to holding a playoff spot after the two finished 1-2 in the Atlantic Division last season.
Florida now has 52 points and sit four points back of Boston for third in the division and of Philadelphia for the final wild card spot.
The Lightning (50 points) sit just one point up on the four-way (Carolina, Buffalo, Detroit and New Jersey) tie for last in the east.
▪ The Lightning finally head home after going 2-2-2 on a six-game road trip which started with a 2-1 win in Los Angeles on Jan. 16. Tampa Bay comes back from the All-Star break with a four-game homestand.
“Let’s be honest,” coach Jon Cooper said, “that was a long road trip.
“It was so long, we sat through two presidents. We pointed in four of the six games, it’s just a little bit frustrating because you sit here and say, ‘it could have been an unreal trip,’ but it turns into a mediocre trip just because we only got six points out of it.”
NEXT UP FOR THE PANTHERS
▪ Friday-Sunday: All-Star break
▪ Monday: Practice; time, site TBA
▪ Tuesday: Ottawa Senators at Panthers, BB&T Center, 7:30 p.m.