TAMPA BAY -- After a somewhat slow start to the 2013-14 season, it appears Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos saved his best for the home crowd.
The star scored his first three goals of the season and added an assist as the Lightning won their home opener with a 7-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Thursday.
"It was great to be back on the home ice and in front of our fans," Stamkos said. "It's always nice to be able to put on a show in front of the home crowd."
Stamkos, who ranked in the top five of league scoring over the past four seasons, came into Thursday's game with just two points.
"I don't think I was pressing or doing anything out of the ordinary," Stamkos added. "I was getting good opportunities and tonight I was able to turn them into goals."
The Lightning (3-1-0) jumped on their state rivals early with the top line of Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Teddy Purcell. St. Louis scored the game's first goal and Stamkos added a short-handed goal, the first of his career, midway through the second period to take a 2-0 lead.
Florida (1-3-0) opened the second period with a power-play goal as Brad Boyes controlled defenseman Brian Campbell's shot off the post and jammed the rebound past Lightning goal Ben Bishop.
Stamkos' second goal came after mad scramble in front of the Panthers net. Starting goalie Jacob Markstrom's save on Ryan Malone's point-blank shot took him out of position, giving Stamkos a clear route to score on the rebound to extend the Lightning lead to 3-1.
Ondrej Palat made the score 4-1 when he blasted a one-timer off of a feed from Alex Killorn.
Holding their first lead in regulation, the Lightning continued to turn up the pressure as Valtteri Filppula scored twice in the third period to increase the lead to 6-2 and chase Markstrom to the bench.
"It was just good to know that they knew what to do with (the lead)," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "For whatever reason I didn't think we were going to play with the lead for the first three games."
Stamkos finished off his sixth-career hat trick with a wrist shot past Scott Clemmensen. It was his 20th goal in 29 games against the Panthers. The four points also matched a career best.
"I thought we had a lot of push and we made things happen with our attack," Cooper added. "I didn't think we had a lot of shots but we were controlling the puck."
Jonathan Huberdeau also scored for the Panthers while Scott Gomez and Kris Versteeg recorded assists.
"We've been our own worst enemy in the games that have not been in dispute," said Panthers coach Kevin Dineen. "We got off to a decent start but we didn't respond well to pressure when they pressured our players. Obviously we were out after they scored their first goal and had a hard time coming back."
Teddy Purcell had three assists for the Lightning while Killorn, Sami Salo and Matthew Carle all had two assists as well. Ben Bishop had 19 saves.
"It was good to be home," Bishop said. "The crowd was great, they were great last year and I hope we can play like this every night."
NOTES: The Lightning and Panthers announced the winner of their four-game season series will be presented with the 'Governor's Cup'. If the teams split, the series the winner will be determined by goal difference. ... Going into Thursday's game, the Lightning are 10-7-3 in home openers. ... Tampa Bay C Steven Stamkos' shorthanded goal in the first period was the Lightning's first shorthanded goal since LW Ryan Malone pulled off the feat against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 26, 2012. ... Tampa Bay RW Martin St. Louis and RW Teddy Purcell both extended their season scoring streaks to three games. ... St. Louis also moved past Bobby Orr on the all-time NHL scoring list with 917 career points. ... Panthers D Erik Gudbranson and Lightning RW B.J. Crombeen fought to a draw in the second period. ... Panthers C Shawn Matthais didn't participate in the morning skate but played Thursday and missed a breakaway scoring chance in the first period.
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