Not even the NHL’s hottest team could slow down the surging Tampa Bay Lightning.
Steven Stamkos scored twice and had three points, and Mathieu Garon turned back 28 shots to lift the Lightning to a 3-2 win over the red-hot Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, snapping Anaheim’s season-high nine-game point streak.
With the win, coupled by an overtime loss by the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier in the night, Tampa Bay moved to within five points of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot and also sits just five points behind Southeast Division leader Florida.
“I thought tonight we really battled hard,” Bolts winger Martin St. Louis said. “It was a gutsy win.”
And an emotional one too.
The team traded Steve Downie to the Colorado Avalanche and acquired a first-round draft pick in 2012 as part of a three-team trade that went down just hours prior to Tuesday night’s opening puck drop. The move signaled General Manager Steve Yzerman’s third trade in less than a week after also shipping off both Dominic Moore and Pavel Kubina to the Sharks and Flyers, respectively.
“It’s really tough,” Stamkos said. “Downs was a guy we were all so close with in this room and was someone everyone respects and loves. It’s the business of hockey sometimes. He was a great friend and a great teammate and we’ll move on the best we can.”
Tuesday night’s win certainly helped.
The Lightning have now won three straight, with each of those wins coming shortly after Yzerman dealt a player for draft picks.
Teddy Purcell also had a goal and added two assists for the Lightning, who have gone 10-3-2 in their last 15 games.
Anaheim lost for just the third time in its past nine games. The Ducks are 15-4-4 since Jan. 1, good for the second-best record in the NHL during that span.
Saku Koivu and Bobby Ryan each had a goal and an assist for the Ducks, who got 13 saves from Jonas Hiller.
Stamkos wasted little time in grabbing the Lightning a quick 1-0 lead, striking just 28 seconds into the game to open the scoring while on the power play and out-muscling a pair of Ducks defenders to bang it home past Hiller.
His second of the night, towards the end of the period from in-close, doubled Tampa Bay’s lead, scoring on a rebound at 17:58 for his league-best 42nd of the year.
The Lightning center has five goals and eight points during a three-game point streak.
“I think we want to get off to a good start every game,” Stamkos said.
“I don’t think it was our particular plan, but any time you score first, you feel better about your game.”
After Koivu scored 40 seconds into the second, Purcell gave Tampa Bay a 3-1 lead two minutes later.
Purcell now has at least a point in seven of his past eight games, recording two goals and 10 assists in that span.
A beautiful tip-in by Ryan then cut the deficit to 3-2 with 1:22 to go in the second period.
Garon, however, stood tall down the stretch, especially late, making a number of key saves to preserve the one-goal lead and ultimately earn the victory.
He improved to 8-2-2 in his past 12 games.