TAMPA, Fla. (AP)—Tampa Bay desperately wanted to win its home finale against rival Florida on Friday night. Even an overtime loss would have kept alive the Lightning’s hopes for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Instead, the Panthers prevailed 7-2, leaving the Lightning two points behind the New York Rangers in the sixth position as their regular season concludes Saturday in Atlanta.
The loss before an overflow crowd of 21,002, combined with Atlanta’s 4-1 victory at Carolina, halted Tampa Bay’s bid for its third Southeast Division championship in four seasons.
“I got over this game after the first 6 or 7 minutes,” Lightning coach John Tortorella said. “Write what you want to write. I know what this team is. And I know what this team is going to do when the playoffs start.”
Nathan Horton opened the scoring 2:56 in with his career-high 31st goal. He has nine goals and three assists in eight games against Tampa Bay this season.
“The puck was bouncing around and we just weren’t doing anything,” Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle said. “The next thing you know we were down 4-0.”
Rookie Janis Sprukts and Jokinen extended the lead with second-period goals, and Kamil Kreps made it 7-0 early in the third. Jokinen has four goals and eight assists in eight games against the Lightning.
“We knew how much this game meant to them, and to come in for my first time and play in this kind of environment and contribute was special,” Sprukts said.
“Obviously,” Lightning center Tim Taylor said, “we overlooked this game.”
Tampa Bay has lost six straight home finales. … The Lightning had won three consecutive games since a 5-2 loss to the Panthers in Tampa on March 27. … Florida clinched the season series by winning the last three games. … The Stanley Cup was on display.