For the second time in a week, the Panthers found themselves trying to defend a two-goal lead in the third period of a divisional game.
Just like Tuesday against the Capitals, Florida couldn’t hold it.
Saturday afternoon it was the visiting Lightning who rebounded from the wrong end of a 5-3 score to beat the Panthers 6-5 in overtime.
The Lightning got a much-needed win by scoring with 10.4 seconds remaining to force an overtime that ended just over a minute after it started when Benoit Pouliot put a bouncing puck past Jose Theodore.
Tampa Bay had one win in February before Saturday and was riding a six-game winless streak yet has enjoyed recent success against its rival on the Atlantic side of the state. Saturday’s win was Tampa Bay’s sixth in a row over the Panthers.
In the third period, it looked like the Lightning’s in-state winning streak was coming to a close. The Panthers led 5-3 with just over 16 minutes left after Tomas Kopecky scored Florida’s third goal within a span of 3:30.
“We’re not finishing. We’re not finishing the game, that’s not finishing scoring and giving a complete game whether it’s 60 or 65 minutes,’’ coach Kevin Dineen said.
“We’re not a complete team right now. That’s a hard loss for us. We have to get ready for the next one.’’
Florida, which lost by the identical 6-5 score to the Capitals here last Tuesday, has picked up at least a point in seven of the past eight games but has left the ice without a victory in four consecutive games.
Yes, the Panthers are getting points in the standings, but the losing is getting old. Especially in games like this in which a victory was within reach.
Florida is 0-0-3 during this four-game homestand with Toronto ending the run of home dates on Monday. The Panthers are 3-1-4 since snapping a five-game losing streak on Jan. 31.
“When we get that lead, we just have to keep coming at teams,’’ said Jack Skille, who scored his second goal of the season to tie the score at 2 in the second period.
Tampa Bay limped into the BB&T Center after its high-flying offense had been slowed during the long losing run. Coming into Saturday’s game, the Lightning hadn’t scored four goals since pounding the Winnipeg Jets 8-3 on Feb. 1 — one night after Florida beat Tampa Bay in Sunrise.
On Saturday, however, the Lightning got its offense back on track as it pulled to within a goal at 5-4 at 7:28 of the third when Steven Stamkos got his second of the game with the Lightning on a power play.
Florida played good defense late until Teddy Purcell was standing alone about 25 feet from goalie Jose Theodore and waited for a nice pass from Stamkos in the closing seconds. Purcell ripped a shot that beat Theodore and evened things up for the first time since early in the period.
For Florida, Purcell’s goal was extremely painful because Peter Mueller’s prime scoring chance was stopped with a minute left. Had Mueller scored off a rebound of a long Jonathan Huberdeau shot, the Panthers would have ended it right then.
Instead, Purcell scored and the Panthers headed to overtime for the fifth time in the past six games. Pouliot pounced on a bouncing puck that flew off the end boards from a Tom Pyatt shot and that was that.
“I’ve never blamed a game on the bounces,’’ Dineen said, “and I don’t think I’ll start now.’’
The Panthers are now 1-4 in overtime with their only win coming in a Philadelphia shootout on Feb. 7. That game also marks Florida’s most recent win.
Florida, which trailed 2-1 and 3-2, scored three goals in a quick span from the end of the second to the 3:24 mark of the third.
Jerred Smithson got his first goal of the season with 4.2 seconds left in the second before Jonathan Huberdeau gave Florida the lead at 1:53 of the third. Kopecky scored 90 seconds later to make it 5-3.
“You have to play really good defensively especially at the end when you have a lead,’’ Kopecky said.
“If things aren’t going your way, you have to earn it. You have to work, have to compete. Obviously this is frustrating but ... there were a lot of good snap shots of things we did well. We can learn from this.’’• Dineen said captain Ed Jovanovski is still slowed by a knee injury sustained in Florida’s previous meeting against the Lightning and despite beginning skating on Friday, will likely miss the next two weeks.
The Panthers said last week that they had hoped Jovanovski would be able to play this coming week.
“There is no expectation for the next two weeks that he’ll be available to us,’’ Dineen said. “It’s disappointing for him and it’s disappointing for us. He leaves a void on our team both on and off the ice. Eddie brings a lot of intangibles to a team.’’