Tampa Bay had lost five consecutive games, but the Panthers have their own special way of helping others turn things around.
Especially the Lightning — at least lately.
Tampa Bay continued its recent dominance of the cross-state rivalry with a 5-4 victory Thursday night at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
“We came to play, owed them a good game,” said Scottie Upshall, who scored the first of Florida’s two goals in the final 1:05 to make the score a tad more respectable.
“We came out with a lot of energy but got away from playing a simple game. Their offense started to take over, had some long shifts and put us on our heels. From then, it was an uphill battle. We had a big effort, but we have a long way to go to be where we want.”
Although the Panthers hold a nice advantage in the all-time series, Tampa Bay won all four meetings this season and has taken seven of the past nine.
Steven Stamkos, who has 38 points in 31 games against the Panthers, scored his first goal since returning from a broken leg last week. Ryan Callahan, the former Rangers captain who came over in the Martin St. Louis trade, also got his first goal in a Tampa Bay blueshirt.
“We have to eliminate some of the little things,” said Florida coach Peter Horachek, whose team led twice early.
“We have to bear down, put our foot down and not allow that Callahan goal.”
The Panthers, who have lost three in a row and 11 of 14 as they jockey for prime draft position once again, watched the Lightning take control of the game by scoring twice in the second.
Florida led 1-0 after Tomas Fleischmann scored 1:44 into the game on a power play.
The Lightning tied it up at 5:38 when Sami Salo beat Florida backup Dan Ellis on a long shot. But 12 seconds later, Quinton Howden scored his first NHL goal to make it 2-1 Florida.
But it was all Lightning after that.
Mike Kostka tied it by scoring on the Lightning’s fifth shot against Ellis at 8:18 of the first, before Callahan gave Tampa Bay its first lead at 12:04 of the second.
Tyler Johnson made it 4-2 with just over a minute left when he threw up an odd-angled shot that hit Ed Jovanovski’s skate and skipped past Ellis.
Stamkos slammed home a power-play goal midway through the third. Upshall and Brandon Pirri scored Florida’s final goals of the night.
ellis gets a shot
With two games with personal meaning to Roberto Luongo coming up, the Panthers went with Ellis on Thursday. Ellis’ previous start came against Columbus while a member of the Stars on March 4.
Ellis played for the Lightning during the 2010-11 season.
The Panthers play host to New Jersey — and former Vancouver goalie Cory Schneider — on Friday night, with the Canucks coming to town Sunday.
Schneider took Luongo’s starting job in 2013 before being traded last summer. Luongo was traded from Vancouver to Florida last week.
Ellis had 23 saves on 28 shots.
Seven of the Panthers’ 20 players on Thursday had spent some time with the Rampage.
“You can’t wait around for that call to come,” Howden said. “You never know what’s going to happen up here, so you keep working for the chance. It’s nice to see a lot of guys, guys you played with all year. It makes things more comfortable. It’s awesome.”