TAMPA, Fla. – Home ice has been kind to the Tampa Bay Lightning this year, and the Bolts got the result they wanted in a brief one-game stand at the St. Pete Times Forum. Closing out a home-and-home series with the Florida Panthers, the Lightning skated to a 3-1 win on Wednesday night.
Vincent Lecavalier posted one goal and one assist and Johan Holmqvist made 22 saves to lead Tampa Bay to their sixth home ice victory through eight games. Breaking the Lightning out of a recent slump, the Lightning held off the Panthers to even the season series with two wins each.
Tampa Bay scored twice within the first seven minutes of the contest to take an early lead that they would not relinquish for the rest of the night. Defenseman Paul Ranger helped put the Lightning on the attack when he jumped into the play for a chance in front of the net, firing the puck off a pass by Filip Kuba.
Moments later the play circled through the offensive zone before Jan Hlavac connected for his second goal of the season. As Brad Richards skated to the trapezoid behind the net he made a backwards pass between his legs to the top of the crease. Hlavac tipped the pass around goaltender Tomas Vokoun to open the scoring at 1:48.
Less than five minutes later Martin St. Louis added his second goal in consecutive games to build a 2-0 Lightning lead. After defenseman Mike Van Ryn lost control of the puck behind the net, Lecavalier picked up the loose biscuit to fire a hard-angle shot on Vokoun. Positioned in front of the net, St. Louis gathered the rebound for the score.
Late in the frame Chris Gratton saw a shot ring off the post after putting the puck on net from the deep right corner. Mathieu Darche fought for position at the side of the crease as the shot deflected in front of the net and hit the opposite post.
Lightning netminder Johan Holmqvist followed up the play by denying Florida’s Olli Jokinen. As the Panthers captain and leading scorer fired a shot from the left faceoff circle, Holmqvist snapped his glove up for the save.
Early in the second period Vokoun made a similar save on Vaclav Prospal. After the Lightning winger collected the puck in the neutral zone, he skated towards the Florida net and snapped a shot from above the left hash marks.
Holmqvist responded with another save through traffic when Cory Murphy fired a slapshot from the right point. Although Nathan Horton tipped the shot for the re-direct, Holmqvist covered the puck for the save. Minutes later Holmqvist denied Stephen Weiss on a Panthers power play after the Florida winger fired a wide open wrist shot from the right faceoff circle.
Despite the saves, Kamil Kreps connected at 8:46 of the second period with his first goal of the year. Kamil’s shot from high in the zone caught Shane O’Brien’s stick to change directions and sneak past Holmqvist on the play.
Michel Ouellet later got a chance as he attempted to convert a rebound at the top of the crease. Looking for the open shot, Ouellet tried to beat Vokoun as he slid through the crease but the Panthers netminder covered the puck.
As the Panthers skated into the final frame with 1:06 remaining on a power play, Holmqvist proved to be the star on the night. Snuffing out a quick series of shots, Holmqvist kept Florida off the board and Tampa Bay in the lead.
Kicking off the play, Ville Peltonen carried the puck down the right wing before dishing a pass across to Jokinen who fired a shot from the left faceoff circle. Holmqvist slid across the crease for the right pad save before Horton took a backhanded swipe at the rebound. While on his stomach Holmqvist made a left pad save before shutting out two more rebound shots by Peltonen and Horton. Brad Lukowich blocked a fifth attempt by Jay Bouwmeester to clear the puck from the zone.
Holmqvist finished the contest with 22 saves to improve to 6-1-1 at home this season. The Lightning netminder improved to 3-3-1 all-time against the Panthers with the win.
“That’s how you win and lose in this league - those key situations - and you make a big play and you get a big save,” head coach John Tortorella said. “[Holmqvist] makes a big save when we turned the puck over. Our bench gets excited about that and tried to feed off it. There’s so many ways to win and lose in this league and it’s situational play – trying to make one more big play than the other team.”
Later in the period Tampa Bay tried to take advantage of a mis-read play in the Panthers zone. When Vokoun was unable to get back to the net after venturing from his crease to play the puck, Jason Ward fired a shot from the top of the left faceoff circle. Peltonen positioned himself in front of the shot to come up with a save for his goaltender.
Minutes after the play St. Louis saw a shot sail wide as he looked for his second goal of the contest. Lecavalier made a pass from behind the net to the top of the crease where St. Louis tried to settle the rolling puck. Unable to keep the puck down the shot popped off St. Louis’ stick blade to go high over the net.
Regardless of the missed chance, Lecavalier potted an empty-net goal with 57.1 seconds remaining in the contest to seal the win. Skating into the zone alone after collecting an outlet pass from Prospal, Lecavalier posted his eighth goal of the season.
“I think we played a really good game,” Holmqvist said. “We came out and had a really good start. We talked about that for a long time and today we finally get it and get the result of the two [points]. I think it was a great team effort.”
With one goal and one assist in the contest Lecavalier extended his current scoring streak to three games. The Lightning center has recorded seven points (one goal, six assists) in that span, including one goal and three assists in the previous two match-ups against the Panthers.
Scoring the game-winning goal, St. Louis also pushed his scoring streak to three games. St. Louis has posted two goals and three assists in the stretch.
Three players posted five shots in the contest as Tampa Bay out-shot Florida 34-23, including 11-6 in the second period. Both teams went scoreless with the man advantage.
“It’s a good thing to win, and [to] win at home tonight after the way we got started on the road,” Holmqvist said. “Now we’re very excited to go back on the road and start up again and get a good trip on the road.”
The Lightning immediately get back on the road following the one-game stop in Tampa Bay as they close out their third set of back-to-back games this season. Facing off against the Carolina Hurricanes for the first of eight meetings the Lightning will kick off a brief two-game road trip on Thursday, November 8 (7:30p.m., Sun Sports, 620 WDAE).
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Martin St. Louis
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Mike Van Ryn
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