By BOB BELLONE
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Just when it looked as if Tampa Bay was headed for a rare home loss, Ryan Callahan and Nikita Kucherov stepped up for the Lightning.
Callahan and Kucherov scored in the third period, leading the Lightning to a 4-3 victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.
Kucherov tied it at 3 with a wraparound for his 27th goal at 1:30. Callahan skated from behind the net and snapped a shot past Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo from the left circle with 2:28 left on the clock.
“We responded well in the third period, and we showed some patience after Kucherov’s goal, hoping we could get one late and we did,” Callahan said.
Andrei Vasilevskiy finished with 33 saves, helping Tampa Bay set a franchise record with its 46th win of the season. The Lightning also extended another club mark for home victories, improving to an NHL-best 30-7-1 with three more opportunities to add on.
“Of all the teams, and we’ve played them all, that’s one of the hardest teams to play against, by far,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “And their desperation level was at an all-time high, and I’m not sure ours was.”
Brenden Morrow and Tyler Johnson also scored for Tampa Bay, which has won four in a row and eight of 10.
Jussi Jokinen, Brandon Pirri and Jonathan Huberdeau scored for Florida. Luongo made 21 saves.
“Bottom line, I’ve just got to get better,” Luongo said. “You want to make a save when it’s important. It’s a tough one to digest.”
Morrow and Johnson scored less than two minutes apart early in the first period. Morrow sent a rebound past Luongo and into the left side of the net at 5:49. Johnson converted a one-timer from the slot at the 7:47 mark.
In the identical time span, Florida moved ahead early in the second. Jokinen and Pirri scored 18 seconds apart, and Huberdeau followed with a third shot past Vasilevskiy.
“They came at us hard, and they are a good hockey team, but we can’t have lapses like that,” Callahan said.
The Lightning (46-21-7) moved within one point of Atlantic Division-leading Montreal, which lost in overtime at Nashville.
The loss was a painful blow for Florida. The Panthers were hoping to draw closer to idle division rivals Ottawa and Boston, which stand between them and the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
“It is disappointing,” Huberdeau said. “We want to make the playoffs. We need these two points. We needed it tonight, and it didn’t happen.”
NOTES: Tampa Bay improved to 18-3-3 against division foes. … Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, who is one victory shy of equaling the team-record 37 wins he notched last season, was a healthy scratch. . Panthers C Nick Bjugstad, the team’s leading goal scorer, was sidelined with a lower-body injury.
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