A late rally fell just short Thursday night, as the Tampa Bay Lightning put forth a valiant effort in the latter stages of the third period, but didn’t come out on top at the end of regulation.
Steven Stamkos scored the only goal for the Lightning to erase a one-goal deficit, and Anders Lindback was strong in net, making 26 saves, but as the Bolts fell 2-1 to the division-rival Winnipeg Jets in front of another sellout crowd of 19,204 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
“We didn’t make many mistakes tonight, but this one was difficult for our players,” Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. “We did everything we could and had lots of chances, but they just didn’t go in. The result didn’t come with the effort.”
The teams entered the contest tied at 21 points apiece in the Southeast Division standings, with Thursday’s winner set to pull ahead of the other into second place, behind only the Carolina Hurricanes, at the top with 27 points.
Following 60 minutes of a tight-checking, grind-it-out type of game, Winnipeg emerged, helped along by Bryan Little’s game-winning goal with just 4:08 to go in regulation.
Little snapped a 1-1 tie at 15:52 of the third to reclaim Winnipeg’s lead, as he skated around Martin St. Louis and beat Lindback with his fourth of the year.
The goal came just moments after Lightning rookie forward Ondrej Palat nearly recorded his first career NHL goal with a shot that rimmed around the post and the crossbar, only to be quickly waved off by the official.
“It’s disappointing for sure, there’s no other way to describe it,” Stamkos said. “The last couple games we’ve been playing well but we haven’t gotten the points. And in this league, that’s what it’s all about. Wins. It’s all about wins.”
Eric Tangradi had the other goal for Winnipeg, while Al Montoya turned back 28 of 29 shots in the win.
The victory allowed the Jets to rebound from a 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, while Tampa Bay’s defeat was its sixth in its past seven games.
Tangradi opened the scoring just past the halfway point of the first when he beat Lindback up high with a sharp wrist shot that put the Jets up 1-0.
The Bolts, meanwhile, had their chances, but couldn’t solve Montoya through the first 40 minutes.
With Paul Postma and Mark Stuart each in the penalty box, Tampa Bay went on a 5-on-3 power play midway through the second, but was stymied by an aggressive Jets penalty kill unit.
Winnipeg had the same opportunity later on, in the period’s final minute, but this time failed to get another one past Lindback, although Andrew Ladd’s attempt from the side of the net rang the post before the sides retreated into the intermission with the Jets still clinging to a one-goal lead.
Stamkos finally got the Lightning on the board in the third, when he slid into the goal mouth and batted in a feed from St. Louis that beat Montoya to tie the game 1-1.
That lasted approximately nine minutes, until Little broke the 1-1 deadlock and put Winnipeg back in front.
Tampa Bay rallied late with Lindback off to the bench in favor of the extra skater, but Winnipeg held strong to stave off the Bolts’ final comeback attempt looking to tie it.
“When you play like we did today, when the effort is there, and you do exactly what you’re supposed to do, and we don’t get anything, that hurts,” Boucher added. “We deserved this one tonight.”