Both Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis proved they’re still very much interested in finishing the season as the league leaders in the NHL stats department.
Stamkos scored his 28th goal of the season to keep pace behind Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin, and Martin St. Louis also had a goal and an assist for Tampa Bay, but in a 3-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in front of a sellout crowd of 19,204 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Sunday night.
With the Lightning down 3-0 in the middle frame, Stamkos put the Bolts’ first goal on the board at 10:07 of the second period while on the power play after taking a pass from Sami Salo and hammering a slap shot from the left circle that beat Dan Ellis.
The tally put the Lightning forward just two back of Ovechkin, with three games still left to play in the regular season for both clubs.
St. Louis also assisted on the goal, which pushed him ahead of Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby for the NHL lead with 42.
The defeat, however, was Tampa Bay’s sixth in a row, while Carolina rebounded from a previous loss on Saturday night to jump the Lightning in the Eastern Conference standings, going up one point ahead of the Lightning.
“I don’t know what it is with us in the first period,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “We always battle back, which is the good part, but we would rather be up a few goals instead of behind.”
Jiri Tlusty scored twice, and Alex Semin had the other goal and two assists for the Hurricanes, which avoided being swept in the season series after Tampa Bay had taken each of the previous four meetings on the year.
Eric Staal registered a pair of assists, while Ellis made 34 saves.
“They’ve had our number recently, but the guys have been playing so hard and we’ve been pleased with their effort,” Carolina head coach Kirk Muller said. “We got off track last night and wanted to get back on track, and thanks to tonight, we did.”
After a slow start to the contest, the Lightning responded midway through the second, and then again late in the third, to bring the game to within one.
St. Louis’ goal at 2:16 of the final frame trimmed the deficit to 3-2 when he sent a beautiful elevated backhand past Ellis after receiving a pass from Vincent Lecavalier off the draw.
The goal, in fact, proved to just be the start of a strong period for Tampa Bay, which kept pressing for the tying goal, while outshooting Carolina 16-4 in the third period alone.
Despite the strong effort throughout the final frame, however, Carolina’s fast start proved too much to overcome.
Semin opened the scoring just 16 seconds in after sending a quick wrist shot past Anders Lindback off a behind-the-net feed from Staal for an early 1-0 lead.
Tlusty then doubled the lead with 9:15 to go in the first frame, cleaning up in front of the net to put Carolina up by a pair just past the midway point.
His second of the night at 18:46 of the period then made it 3-0 before the sides headed in for the intermission.
Lindback, making his first start since returning from a high ankle sprain that sidelined him for the previous 13 games, finished with 25 saves on the night.
He showed signs of being a bit rusty early on, but settled down after the first period and stopped each of the Hurricanes’ final 13 shots through the final 40 minutes to keep the Lightning in it, while also giving them a chance to come back for the tie.
“We’ve got to figure it out,” Hedman added. “We’ve got to figure it out for the upcoming three games.”
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