- Associated Press - Thursday, March 13, 2014

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Steven Stamkos could smile after his best offensive game in four months came in a victory.

Stamkos scored his first goal since returning from a major injury, Ryan Callahan had his first goal with Tampa Bay, and the Lightning beat the Florida Panthers 5-4 on Thursday night.

“It’s nice just confidence wise to get you going,” Stamkos said.

Stamkos gave Tampa Bay a 5-2 lead from the low left circle during a power play at 10:47 of the third. The Lightning star, playing in his fourth game since missing 45 games after breaking his right shin Nov. 11, also had an assist after three pointless games.


“You just knew it, time for him to break out at some point,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “And that was classic Stammer right there.”

Stamkos played 20:12 and had three shots.

Stamkos is maybe the best pure goal scorer in the league,” Florida coach Peter Horachek said. “He’s got an exceptional shot, gets it off quick, very accurate, very hard.”

Callahan scored from in-close to put the Lightning up 3-2 at 12:04 of the second. The Lightning obtained the right wing from the New York Rangers for former captain Martin St. Louis at the trade deadline.

Tampa Bay, which had lost five straight (0-3-2) also got goals from Sami Salo, Michael Kostka and Tyler Johnson. Goalie Ben Bishop won his 30th game this season. Tomas Fleischmann, Quinton Howden, Scottie Upshall and Brandon Pirri scored for the Panthers, who have lost 11 of 14.

“We didn’t quit,” Horachek said. “We just kept pushing. We kept getting some great chances and great looks in the second period, and we had some chances in the third period as well.”

Upshall and Pirri scored in the final 1:05 to get Florida to 5-4.

“You don’t want to give them up, but at the same time, it seems like when you’re struggling like this a little bit to get some wins, those things happen,” Callahan said. “We got the two points. Most of that game we played good hockey.”

Tampa Bay swept the four-game season series, outscoring the Panthers 22-10.

Johnson made it 4-2 with 1:07 left in the second when he sent the puck into the slot and it deflected off Florida defenseman Ed Jovanovski and past goalie Dan Ellis.

Stamkos assisted on Johnson’s goal.

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