TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - The Tampa Bay Lightning aren't counting on outside help to make the NHL playoffs.
"We have to do it ourselves," coach John Tortorella said Saturday night, "and there's nothing wrong with doing it that way."
The defending Stanley Cup champions got a goal from Martin St. Louis with 10.7 seconds remaining in overtime to beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 and move a step closer to clinching one of the last two spots in the Eastern Conference.
The victory enabled the eighth-place Lightning to retain a three-point advantage over ninth-place Atlanta, which had pulled within one point with a 4-3 victory over Boston earlier in the day.
Tampa Bay has 92 points with one game remaining at home against Washington on Tuesday night and could finish as high as seventh with a victory, coupled with a loss by seventh-place Montreal in its season finale against New Jersey.
Atlanta has 89 points with two games remaining - at Washington on Monday night and at Florida on Tuesday night. The Thrashers will make the playoffs if they beat the Capitals and Panthers, and Tampa Bay loses its finale in regulation.
"It's all in our hands here on home ice, where we want to have it," said Richards, whose first-period, power-play goal got the Lightning off to a strong start.
St. Louis is embracing the down-to-the wire chase.
"Obviously it's tough on the stress meter. But that's why you play - for this time of the year," St. Louis said. "I feel when our back is against the wall we play our best."
Brad Richards and Fredrik Modin also scored for Tampa Bay, which snapped a three-game losing streak despite squandering a 2-0 lead in the third period. John Grahame stopped 25 shots, and the Lightning killed off Carolina's last power-play opportunity before St. Louis delivered the winner after picking up the loose puck near the red line and skating in on Carolina goalie Martin Gerber.
Carolina, which won a shootout against Tampa Bay in Raleigh on Friday night, rallied on third-period goals by Cory Stillman and Matt Cullen and took over sole possession of the top spot in the East with 112 points - one more than Ottawa, which lost 5-1 at Toronto.
"We had a chance to close out the conference and it's disappointing," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said.
"It's all about the playoffs. We play these games, but you want to get all the rounds at home. That's why you battle. It's not over. There's still one game left."
Despite its 5-4 loss Friday night, the Lightning got a much-needed point in the standings and showed signs of pulling out of the funk that denied them an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth earlier in the week.
The sense of urgency that was missing in lopsided losses to Florida and Atlanta was much more evident in both games against Carolina, which didn't help itself Saturday night by going 0-for-5 on the power play in the first two periods.
Grahame, whose inconsistency cost him the No. 1 goaltender's job to Sean Burke late in the season, stopped 24 shots in regulation - none bigger than his rejection of Stillman's point-blank opportunity on a breakaway to protect a 1-0 lead.
Modin scored 30 seconds later to make it 2-0, but the Hurricanes were not finished.
Stillman's 21st goal of the season trimmed Carolina's deficit in half with just under 12 minutes to go in regulation. Cullen, who scored the only goal in Friday night's shootout, added his 25th to make it 2-all with 8:44 remaining.
Carolina finished 0-for-7 on the power play. Tampa Bay was 1-for-5, with Richards' goal coming with a two-man advantage.
Notes: Grahame improved to 5-1 against Carolina this season. ... The Lightning have won nine of their past 10 home games. ... Despite going 7-8-1 in their last 16 away from home, the Hurricanes' 21 road victories equal the franchise record set during the 1989-90 season.
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