TAMPA, Fla. -- Panthers coach Kevin Dineen was asked about certain future Hall of Fame Lightning forward Martin St Louis after morning skate Friday in the Tampa Bay Times Forum and he proceeded to regale the media with a telling anecdote.
"I saw Marty at my son's hockey tournament in Estero last spring and I congratulated him on a wonderful season and felt that would be a fabulous way to go out as the leading scorer," Dineen smiled. "He's still got about five years before we get that."
If the 38-year-old dynamo had taken Dineen's suggestion to heart perhaps the Panthers wouldn't have dragged their tucked tails over Alligator Alley with a 7-2 blowout loss to end what had begun as a promising season-opening four-game road trip.
Of course, 23-year-old superstar Steven Stamkos, who had a hat trick and an assist, might've beaten them single-handedly as the Lightning improved to 11-7-3 in home openers.
St Louis, a longtime Panthers killer, teamed with Stamkos to register six points to ignite the rout and give the cross-state (still) division rivals a leg up on their quest for the newly instituted Governor's Cup.
So the Panthers, who began the 2013-14 season with a stirring 4-2 victory in Dallas, will unveil their $4.2 million scoreboard in their home opener Friday night on a three-game losing streak in which they've been outscored 16-3.
"They're highly skilled players, but more than anything they work harder than anyone in the league, and if you don't match up with 100 percent effort to contain them you're going to get lit up like we did tonight," Dineen said of Stamkos and St Louis.
Unless Tim Thomas (groin) makes an amazing recovery, the Panthers will have a backup goalie, possibly Scott Clemmensen, in net against the rested, undefeated Penguins, with the 2012 champion L.A. Kings on deck Sunday afternoon.
Reigning Calder Cupper Jonathan Huberdeau beat Lightning goalie Ben Bishop on a slick breakaway at 3:48 of the third for his first of the season to make it a two-goal deficit. But Lightning center Valtteri Filppula secured the victory with two consecutive goals.
"We fell apart again," Huberdeau said. "I thought we were back in it when I scored, again they scored. We have to be better defensively."
Dineen had seen enough and yanked Markstrom (six goals on 24 shots) for Clemmensen at 9:14.
Stamkos added the frosting with his patented one-time blast in the third to literally cap off the party as the hats rained down.
After Shawn Matthias left his sick bed to gag on an early breakaway, the Lightning struck one second after their power play expired when Stamkos set up St Louis for his trademark stuff shot. That was Tampa's (3-1) first lead in regulation this season.
St Louis, who led the NHL with 60 points last season, but since Dineen took over the reins in 2011-12, he has a ridiculous seven goals and 11 assists in 12 games.
At 13:54, a Marcel Goc muff led to a St Louis-Stamkos breakaway that ended with St Louis re-directing it past Markstrom for a shorthanded goal and 2-0 lead after one.
The Panthers started the second period with a 1:40 power play and they snapped their season-opening 0-for-17 power outage when Brad Boyes tapped in a fluky carom off the end boards.
"It's terrible, awful to give up (two 7-goal losses)," Boyes said. "We got to figure it out quick because it doesn't get any easier with good teams coming in."
Tomas Fleischmann received the secondary assist for career No. 150.
"It caught us off guard, we thought we got the ugliness out of our system (in Philadelphia)," Dineen said. "They smelled blood when they saw we didn't respond to pressure."
Thomas tested out his strained groin Thursday morning by taking a flurry of shots from goalie coach Robb Tallas.
"I'm feeling better (Thursday) than (Wednesday)," Thomas said.
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