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Panthers strike down Lightning 5-2, take command of the division

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Cats follow up huge win in Beantown with another on Florida's Gulf Coast

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After overcoming being down a goal in Boston by scoring four unanswered on Thursday, the Florida Panthers used a very similar script to post a convincing 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning to take control of the Atlantic Division with seven games left in the regular season.

Jaromir Jagr, Jonathan Huberdeau and Jussi Jokinen each posted a goal and an assist and Roberto Luongo finished the game with 33 stops, and was named First Star, to power the Panthers to victory.

The Cats now lead the Lightning by two points and the third place Bruins by five. They also have opened up an eight-point bulge on the fourth place Detroit Red Wings, who lost earlier in the afternoon to Pittsburgh, reducing their magic number for clinching a playoff spot to seven.

The Lightning struck first to open the scoring 5:52 into the action. After taking a feed from Nikita Nesterov, Tyler Johnson beat a screened Luongo low for his 14th of the season. Ondrej Palat picked up the secondary helper on the power-play goal, which came just 27 seconds after Brian Campbell was sent to the sin bin for putting the puck over the glass.

Vincent Trocheck even the game at the 13:36 mark with another spectacular goal. After taking an outlet pass from Jokinen, Trocheck sped up the ice before pulling up in the left circle and whipping the puck past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Huberdeau combined with Aleksander Barkov to set up Jagr for a power-play tally with 1:58 left in period to give the Cats a lead they would not relinquish. Barkov, who was below the Bolts' goal line, found the ageless wonder open in the right circle and Jagr fired the puck past Vasillevskiy for his 25th, tying Trocheck for the team lead.

The Panthers came up with the only goal of the second period at 15:53 thanks to nice individual effort from center Nick Bjugstad. After winning the offensive draw, Bjugstad tracked down the puck and fed Alex Petrovic at the opposite point. Petrovic sent the puck towards the net and pinballed it in off Jiri Hudler and Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman.

Luongo came up with huge pad stop on Cedric Paquette earlier in the period and the Cats killed off three penalties to stay up by one until Hudler came up with his 15th of the campaign.

Huberdeau put the game away 4:02 into the final frame, lighting the lamp from the slot after Barkov found him with a pass in tight quarters after Jagr stole the puck after coming off the bench to keep it in the Tampa Bay end.

Steven Stamkos pulled one back for the Bolts with a 6-on-4 power-play goal at 16:48, from Brian Boyle and Nesterov. Stamkos was able to convert the rebound of Boyle's shot from a sharp angle while camping out off to Luongo's right.

Jokinen put the icing on the cake with an unassisted, shorthanded empty-netter to complete the scoring with 25 ticks left on the clock, giving the Panthers impressive back-to-back wins after they started the daunting three-game road trip with a lackluster performance against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

The Panthers return to Sunrise to face the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday to open a three-game homestand that also sees the New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens stop by the BB&T Center.

Flash & Dash

  • The victory gave the Panthers a 4-1 win in the season-series win against its cross-state rival.
  • Jaromir Jagr has now hit the 25-goal plateau eighteen times in his illustrious career. Only Gordie Howe stands above that mark with twenty.
  • Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos certainly came to play. Stamkos scored his 36th goal to extend his point streak to five games, fired eight shots on Roberto Luongo, blocked a shot and was credited with two hits.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau became the fourth Panther this season break the 50-point barrier. In addition to his goal and helper, Huberdeau led the Cats with six shots on goal to earn Second Star honors.
  • Dmitry Kulikov played a solid game on Florida's back end. Kulikov blocked a game-high five shots and dished out two hits.
  • Not the best of nights for Bolts backup keeper Andrei Vasilevskiy, who finished with 22 saves and said he had trouble tracking the puck at times.
  • The fine folks at war-on-ice have the advanced stats breakdown for you here.
  • NHL.com has an electrifying highlight package for you to see with your own eyes.
  • Raw Charge has the other side of the Panthers' impressive hostile takeover of the Atlantic Division lead.