The Tampa Bay Lightning added a little more life to their playoff hopes on Saturday night, while preventing a division rival from doing the same to their own postseason chances.
Steven Stamkos scored what stood up as the game-winning goal at 1:50 of the second period and Mathieu Garon stopped 23 of 24 shots faced as the Lightning edged out an important 2-1 victory over the division-foe Washington Capitals at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
“[Continuing the fight] is the only thing we know right now,” Stamkos said. “We have a plan and everyone believes in it in this room. It was another big win, but we have to keep it going.”
With the win, the Lightning now sit just six points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The victory also marked Tampa Bay’s sixth in its past nine at home.
Tom Pyatt had the other goal for Tampa Bay, winners in two straight.
Washington, playing for the second consecutive night and coming off a 2-1 win at Florida just the night before, has now lost four of its past five. With a win, the Capitals could have tied the Panthers, who have one game at hand, for first place in the Southeast Division.
Brooks Laich scored the lone goal for the Capitals and cut a two-goal deficit in half at 9:41 of the middle frame after coming across the side of the net and redirecting Mathieu Perrault’s centering feed past Garon to make it 2-1.
The goal came just minutes after a spectacular defensive play by Stamkos earlier in the period that helped put Tampa Bay up by a pair. The Lightning forward got things started when he picked off a pass from Matt Hendricks at the blue line and raced in all alone on Tomas Vokoun before deking the Capitals net minder with a nifty backhand move and instead wristing a forehand over the left pad.
“For some reason, we played like we didn’t want to play against them,” Vokoun said. “We didn’t make it tough on them and the turnovers certainly didn’t help.”
Stamkos, who became the league’s first 40-goal scorer this season, now has lit the lamp in all but two of his past seven games with six in that span. He is just the fifth player in NHL history to record three consecutive seasons with at least 40 goals in each prior to his 23rd birthday, joining Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Dale Hawerchuk and Alex Ovechkin.
“It’s nice,” Stamkos added. “There are always milestones you set before the year, but it’s also nice to get the win, especially this time of year when we’re battling for the last playoff spot. We’re inching closer and we have to keep being hungry.”
Pyatt opened the scoring just 2:10 into the game after putting home a rebound on an initial shot from Teddy Purcell. It appeared as if Vokoun thought he had squeezed the puck between his legs, but it snuck through the pads and trickled out, allowing Pyatt to whack it home for a career-best sixth of the season.
Tampa Bay received five power-play opportunities on the night, but couldn’t convert on a single attempt despite earning numerous good looks with the man advantage.
Vokoun finished the night with 21 saves.
“Fight, fight, fight,” Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. “I always felt and still feel like that’s our trademark. I think all around everybody is very dedicated to that, so that’s a good thing.”