No team had beaten the reigning Stanley Cup finalists in consecutive games in three years until Saturday night.
The Panthers made it look a little too easy.
A night after thumping the defending champion Blackhawks, the Panthers ended Tampa Bay’s winning streak with a resounding 5-2 victory in front of 19,626 at BB&T Center.
Florida came into Friday’s game riding a four-game losing streak yet outscored the Blackhawks and Lightning — the two hottest teams in the league — 9-2.
The Lightning had won seven consecutive games, including a 3-1 victory over the Panthers last week in Tampa, before Florida scored four in the second period and rolled to its third victory over its cross-state rivals this season.
“It’s not too often you can say the two Florida teams are first and second in the division,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said Saturday morning, “We’re both good teams, and I think that makes it a lot of fun.’’
Gallant stuck with his plan to roll out goalie Roberto Luongo for a second consecutive night and that worked out just fine.
Luongo, who recorded his 72nd career shutout Friday, made 38 saves Saturday as Tampa didn’t connect on him until the third when the game result was all but decided.
After a scoreless first period slowed by five penalties, the Panthers came out jumping in the second.
Florida peppered goalie Ben Bishop with Logan Shaw, Jonathan Huberdeau and Sasha Barkov getting great chances before Huberdeau finally broke through midway through to make it 1-0.
Florida’s power-play drought ended minutes later as Nick Bjugstad scored off a Huberdeau feed with one second left on Florida’s third try with the advantage.
The Panthers hadn’t scored a power play goal since Jan. 2 — a run of 28 chances without a score.
“It was a good period for everyone,’’ Bjugstad said.
Florida broke things open with 4:04 left in the second after Reilly Smith’s shot ricocheted off Tampa’s Victor Hedman and slid past Bishop.
With 2:27 left, Vincent Trocheck chopped at a loose puck and his sand-wedge shot floated over Bishop’s head and into the back of the net for a 4-0 lead.
Brian Campbell’s empty net goal with 4:08 remaining closed things out for the Panthers.
Florida’s victory gives it a little breathing room atop the Atlantic Division.
Tampa Bay had closed to within a point of the Panthers after beating Chicago on Thursday, but wins on consecutive nights now gives Florida a five-point lead on the Lightning.
The Panthers play host to Toronto on Tuesday before going into the weeklong All-Star break.
YES TO NASHVILLE
Jaromir Jagr politely asked fans not to use their All-Star Game votes on him through his Twitter account.
Jagr wound up getting the most votes in the Atlantic Division and was named a captain for the revamped All-Star Game this coming weekend in Nashville.
Jagr was serious about not wanting to go yet he said Saturday night he would travel to Nashville and participate in the event.
Saturday morning, Jagr reiterated his distain for the time commitment to the event explaining he doesn’t want his daily workout and skating routine to be interrupted as he needs to prepare himself mentally and physically for Florida’s final 33 games after the break.
“We have 30 games left,” Jagr said, “and I need to be ready for them.”
When asked if he would be on the team charter to Nashville Thursday, Jagr refused to commit. Following the game, he said he would be there.
If Jagr were to skip out, NHL rules say he will have to miss a game that counts (the All-Star one does not).
The Panthers have three players — Jagr, Luongo and Aaron Ekblad — as well as Gallant selected for the event.
The All-Star Game will be held Sunday with the skills competition on Saturday.