TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Martin St. Louis' surprise return gave the Tampa Bay Lightning a much needed lift.
St. Louis scored a tiebreaking, rebound goal with 1:43 left, leading the Lightning past the New York Islanders 3-2 on Thursday night.
St. Louis was back in the lineup less than a week after breaking a bone near the tip of his left ring finger. It was first thought that St. Louis, who sat out two games, would miss two-to-four weeks. The 2004 NHL MVP also damaged his nail bed after being hit in the hand by defenseman Darryl Sydor's shot in practice last Sunday.
``It was completely unexpected ... nobody knew,'' said Tampa Bay's John Grahame, who made 34 saves. ``But that's the type of player he is. He's got the biggest heart of anybody in the league, probably. Just having his presence out there really helped us.''
``It definitely feels good,'' St. Louis said. ``It's a great play by Vinny. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time ... and I'll take those.''
St. Louis said his hand felt a little uncomfortable.
``I think I'll be playing with that for a little while,'' St. Louis said. ``It's just getting used to it.''
New York goalie Rick DiPietro stopped 28 shots, but no chance on St. Louis' winner.
``The puck's going way over the net,'' DiPietro said. ``It catches Vinny in the back and then it just falls right to his feet. You've got to give them credit. They worked hard. They were in the right spot, but that's a tough one for us to drop.''
The defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning have won two of three after a six-game losing streak.
``You can just sense it's going to be a year that's a dog fight every game,'' Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said. ``We have to realize that, buckle in and get ready for the ride here as far as each and every night.''
Alexei Yashin had a goal and an assist for the Islanders, who had won a season-best three straight. He got New York even at 2 after picking up a loose puck and scoring from the right circle 57 seconds into the third.
``We gave away a point,'' Islanders coach Steve Stirling said. ``That's a disappointment we got beat. Played hard, played against a good team and played pretty well for 57, 58 minutes but it's not enough.''
Robert Nilsson put New York ahead 1-0 at 5:35 of the first. He scored from the right circle off a nifty backhand pass by Yashin.
The Lightning tied it at 1 on Ruslan Fedotenko's goal with 1:28 left in the first. Fedotenko scored off a pass from behind the net by Vinny Prospal.
Brad Richards gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead on a second-period goal at 11:49.
Notes: Prospal has 12 assists and 20 points during a 12-game point streak. It's one short of the team record held by Brian Bradley and St. Louis. ... The Islanders conclude a four city, six-day road trip Saturday at the Florida Panthers.
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