Mathieu Garon has not started in net much lately.
With Anders Lindback emerging in net for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Garon’s start against the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday night was just his fifth of the season.
By the way, the winner would be in first place in the Southeast Division.
And Garon took advantage.
“We had a great game plan,” Garon told Sun Sports after the game, “and we stuck with it for sixty minutes.”
Garon made 32 of 34 saves in a 5-2 Lightning victory where the Bolts came alive with four goals in the third period, bolstering their lead as the National Hockey League’s highest-scoring third period team and highest-scoring team overall.
Tampa Bay leads the league with 66 goals on the season.
The game against Carolina seemed on track to be a goaltenders’ duel before the Tampa Bay offense exploded suddenly in the third.
Despite 46 combined shots through two periods, the score stood at 1-0. The only goal came when Tampa Bay defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron (1) fired a wrist shot from near the blue line that somehow beat goalie Dan Ellis to his glove side.
Ellis made 22 of his first 23 saves before falling apart, allowing four goals on 16 third period Lightning shots.
Forward Benoit Pouliot (6) extended the Lightning lead 02:11 into the third when he put home a one-timer from center Vincent Lecavalier and forward Martin St. Louis.
St. Louis’ assist was his league-leading 19th assist of the season.
Following Carolina forward Drayson Bowman’s (1) goal under a minute later that cut the Tampa Bay lead to one, Tampa Bay picked up back-to-back goals to put the game away.
The first came from forward Richard Panik (1), as he scored his first NHL goal. Panik shot at Ellis three consecutive times before finishing the job and scoring to give the Lightning a two goal lead.
Just 18 seconds later, center Tom Pyatt (6) was left open in the slot and scored from center Alex Killorn’s pass to put the game away.
A game that had seemed completely in reach just minutes earlier was suddenly all but over for the Hurricanes.
Carolina forward Chad LaRose (2) tried to make a game of it late, capitalizing off a rebound on a two-on-one break to make it a 4-2 game.
However, center Steven Stamkos, the league’s leading point-scorer with 26 points, quickly reminded Carolina of his presence, deflecting center Cory Conacher’s pass past Ellis for his 12th goal of the year.
Stamkos has also scored in four straight games, his second longest streak of the season.
The victory by no means solidifies the Lightning as favorites in the Southeast but it undoubtedly made a statement with its 5-2 victory.
The Bolts now sit two points ahead of the Hurricanes, owners of the best goal differential in the division at +13.
Tampa Bay now faces its third back-to-back of the season, as they will head north to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. ET. The Penguins, winners of seven of their last 10, sit tied for first with the New Jersey Devils in the Atlantic Division.
Carolina also encounters a back-to-back, traveling to do battle with the New York Islanders Sunday night at 7 p.m. ET. New York is in last in the Atlantic.