Lightning end slump, Panthers crumble again

SUNRISE, Fla. — One team had to break.

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers entered Saturday’s matinee in equally fragile states. The Lightning sought a win for the first time in six games, while the Panthers aimed to overcome late struggles which hampered them over the past two games.

After 59 minutes of back-and-forth action with its rival, Florida needed all of 90 seconds for the cracks in its foundation to give way.

Tampa Bay’s Teddy Purcell forced overtime with 10.4 seconds remaining in regulation and Benoit Pouliot struck 79 seconds into the extra period, lifting the Lightning to a 6-5 win over its intrastate foe.

“I know we’re fighting for points and we were on a big losing streak there,” Purcell said. “To be able to contribute, to give the team a point and help us contribute in overtime, it was a good feeling. And the goal by Pouliot gave us an extra point.”

The win marked the first time since Feb. 1 the Bolts netted at least four goals.

“We’re getting a lot of scoring chances against everybody, but we weren’t burying them,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. “So tonight, it was the return of the [goals] we’ve been missing.”

Allowing five goals would normally be a concern for any coach, but gutting through adversity showed Boucher the Lightning are learning from their mistakes.

“It wasn’t because we were discouraged,” Boucher added. “It wasn’t because guys let up. It wasn’t because guys were quitting. It wasn’t because we got out of whack and started to play on offense. We stayed the same and grinded it out. I like that.”

Meanwhile, Florida suffered its third straight overtime loss. It also marked the second time in that same stretch the Panthers blew a two-goal lead in the final period.

Up until the last 15 seconds of regulation, it looked as if Saturday would offer a turnaround to Florida’s woes.

The Panthers scored in the first minute of the game, tied the contest at 3 with 4.2 seconds remaining in the second and scored two more a span of 91 seconds to start the third. Each of Florida’s lines contributed on the scoresheet, something coach Kevin Dineen preaches is essential to his team’s success.

“Everyone was contributing. We got up by two goals,” said Jack Skille, who recorded a goal and an assist for Florida. “It was almost identical to that game against Washington. It was right on the 14-minute mark where we were up two. We’ve got to find a way to preserve those leads.”

Broadcasters could have swapped out Saturday’s live feed for a tape of Tuesday’s game against the Capitals and few would have noticed. Florida surrendered the tying goal in that game with just under three minutes to play, then gave up the winner 32 seconds into overtime.

The Panthers held a 5-3 lead in that contest, too.

“We’re not finishing,” Dineen said. “Not finishing the game, not finishing scoring.”

With both teams on the outside of the playoff bubble, the magnitude of one win, one point, one bounce could ultimately break a season when looking in the rearview.

Tampa Bay finds itself a little closer to the postseason chance than Florida. Three quarters of the season remains, and with so much parity in the Eastern Conference — only 10 points separate the best from the worst — one good stretch could move both teams into the mix.

Still, there are issues to fix for both teams.

“There’s still a lot of mistakes for both teams,” Purcell said. “Obviously there’s a lot of mistakes with 11 goals scored.”

The Panthers know it, too.

“We only have so many lessons we can learn before we can capitalize on stuff like that,” Florida’s Mike Weaver said. “Ten seconds left, we’ve got to have a win there. It’s got to stop.”