Wins have been elusive as of late, but nonetheless, the Tampa Bay Lightning continue to keep on fighting.
Steven Stamkos scored twice, and Matt Gilroy and Vincent Lecavalier each added two assists as Tampa Bay erased a pair of two-goal deficits, but before eventually falling 5-4 to the New Jersey Devils Monday night at the St. Pete Times Forum.
“We showed a lot of character like we always do,” Stamkos said. “We always never quit and come back. Again, we never quit but we dug ourselves a hole and it was too big to climb out of.”
With New Jersey out to a three-goal lead with approximately 10 and a half minutes to go in regulation, Stamkos notched a pair of goals to make it 5-4 with 34 seconds left. He finally made good on a power-play chance at 9:29 of the third after he took a feed from Dominic Moore and flipped a shot over Johan Hedberg for his 17th of the season.
With Mathieu Garon pulled in favor of the extra skater in the game’s final minute, Stamkos struck again to narrow the gap to one.
“It was tough, but we were down 2-0 too so we knew we could have came back if we scored some goals,” Gilroy said. “We have to keep them out of our net though.”
Stamkos has points in 11 of 12 home games this season for the Lightning. With two goals Monday against the Devils, he now has 18 on the season and moved into a tie with Phil Kessel for the NHL’s goal-scoring lead.
Peter Sykora and Dainius Zubrus each scored for New Jersey. They helped the Devils grab a quick lead off a pair of goals that opened the scoring just 5:28 after the initial puck drop.
First, Dwayne Roloson made a nice save on a slap shot from the left circle by Bryce Salvador, but the rebound came right onto Sykora’s stick in the slot for an easy backhand into an open cage. Zubrus then made it 2-0 while on the power play after firing a shot through traffic that found the back of the net off a deflection.
The Devils won for third time in its past four tries, but even afterwards, Hedberg admitted it wasn’t easy.
“They played great,” Hedberg said of the Lightning. “We know what we’re going to face in a game like this. We know they are going to be aggressive. I thought our guys did a great job and I thought their guys did a really good job. It was a good game.”
Tampa Bay made it so in the first frame’s final minutes, countering with two goals in 80 seconds by Steve Downie and Blair Jones to close out the first period and send a 2-2 tie into the first intermission.
Downie first reduced the deficit to one at 17:34, then Jones tied the game at two after he gathered the puck along the right boards and skated in on Hedberg while fighting off a defender on his back. As Hedberg went out of the crease for the poke check, Jones made a nifty move to bring the puck over to the backhand and bury one to draw Tampa Bay even.
Zach Parise regained New Jersey’s lead 56 seconds into the middle frame after sneaking a shot inside the near post to make it 3-2 and chasing Roloson from net in the process.
Roloson finished the night with nine saves on 12 shots. Garon, appearing in his fourth consecutive game, made eight saves in relief.
“I needed to turn the game around, I needed to do something and I felt that was it at the moment,” Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said of the decision to remove Roloson from action. “I didn’t feel it in the first period that I needed to do that. I didn’t want that moment to wait for things to happen. I wanted to turn it around and I had to pull him out. I feel bad because I know he cares so much and he prepared so hard for this game. He’s going to keep battling and we’re going to keep helping him because he wants to help himself.”
Ilya Kovalchuk and Adam Henrique closed out the scoring for the Devils with a pair of second-period goals against Garon to pad the lead after Parise put New Jersey back up by one.
Kovalchuk made it 4-2 after finishing off an odd-man rush with Parise and roofing one high above Garon at 5:42. Parise then set up nearly an identical play less than eight minutes later to help New Jersey take a three-goal lead with under six minutes to play. He skated in through the slot before passing the puck to Henrique, who tapped it in while shorthanded.
“I had a couple of Christmas presents from Parise, which is always nice,” Kovalchuk said. “Both teams were desperate for points. We came up after a loss and Tampa had lost a couple in a row, so both teams were desperate.”
Parise now has 11 points in his past eight games, including eight assists in that span. Hedberg stopped 32 of 36 shots in the game for New Jersey.
Monday’s defeat was the seventh in the past eight games for Tampa Bay.
“We fought and we gave it everything we had,” Boucher added. “We wanted to give a show to our fans and we care about our fans, so we didn’t want to quit. It’s tough mentally on the players and I’m not going to point any fingers here. It’s a team sport and there are moments in a franchise, moments in a season, in segments of a season that you don’t understand why. It’s just happening this way and you have to manage it mentally. It matters how your react to it and react the right way, or you sink lower.”