Simon Gagne not only sparked the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday night, he lit a fuse.
Gagne scored twice and brought the Lightning to within one goal halfway through the final period, but came up short as Tampa Bay dropped its second straight, falling 6-4 to the division-rival Carolina Hurricanes at RBC Center.
After the Lightning forward made it 5-4 at 11:05, he nearly tied the game with a shot from the hash marks within the game’s final 90 seconds and was the team’s catalyst through the final 20 minutes in which Tampa Bay held an 11-6 shot advantage in a late surge to mount a comeback.
“We were getting a lot of opportunities,” captain Vincent Lecavalier said. “But with the opportunities we had, we just needed to keep going.”
Jussi Jokinen had two goals for the Hurricanes, including an empty-net tally that sealed the victory at 19:53 in regulation.
Carolina won for the fourth time in its last five games and improved to 7-1-2 in its last 10. After a sluggish 11-12-3 start to the season, the Hurricanes have moved into within one point of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot.
Steven Stamkos and Lecavalier also scored for the Lightning, who lost consecutive games for the first time after alternating wins and losses in each of the team’s last six contests.
Dwayne Roloson made 25 saves after earning the start Friday, too, against New Jersey in the first half of a back-to-back set.
Eric Staal, Jamie McBain, Jeff Skinner and Chad Larose had goals for Carolina.
Larose evened things up on the power play three minutes after Stamkos opened scoring with his league-leading 33rd of the season.
Skinner then gave the Hurricanes the lead with a goal at 17:23, but the Lightning responded within the period’s final minute as Lecavalier tied the game at two goals apiece after tapping St. Louis’ cross-crease pass through the legs of Cam Ward with 23 seconds left in the first. The Lightning captain is riding a four-game point streak, which also includes three assists.
Ward stopped 30 of 34 shots on the night.
“I thought we started well and started off strong,” Kubina said. “We wanted to make up for last night’s effort.”
The two teams have been traveling in opposite directions as of late, which could provide for three challengers, including Washington, in contention of the Southeast Division heading into the All-Star break, to be held in Carolina beginning Jan. 28.
The Hurricanes climbed back into the picture thanks in part to a surging offense, which has scored four or more goals in seven of the last 10 games, while Tampa Bay has lost four of its last six and have allowed five or more goals in each defeat.
Gagne’s fifth of the season put Tampa Bay back in front at 1:02 in the second period. He slipped a puck past Ward from in-close after taking a pass from Stamkos through the slot.
The Lightning came in with the league’s sixth-ranked penalty kill, but found themselves in trouble after Victor Hedman went to the box for a hooking call at 3:28.
McBain helped Carolina take full advantage when he tied it at three with a power-play goal at 4:19. Jokinen increased the lead with the Lightning two men down less than two minutes later after Stamkos and Mattias Ohlund were both sent off after incurring a pair of infractions 11 second apart.
Carolina converted on four of five power-play opportunities on the night.
“Our penalty kill and power play was spectacular tonight,” Hurricanes Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “Special teams was definitely the difference for us in this game.”
Staal affirmed his coach’s sentiments when he scored shorthanded and brought the score to 5-3 after cashing in a breakaway one-on-one with Roloson.
Gagne cut the deficit to one with his second tally of the night when he beat Ward on a breakaway with a wrist shot midway through the final period.
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