COLUMBUS, Ohio – Jeff Halpern scored one goal and added an assist in a rare matinee game, but it wasn’t enough to lift the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday. Skating as the visiting team, the Lightning dropped a 5-3 decision to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the lone meeting between the clubs this season.
Early in the game Lecavalier tested Leclaire with the man-advantage, skating to the slot from the right faceoff circle to snap a shot. After Leclaire blocked the shot by Lecavalier, the Blue Jackets opened the scoring on David Vyborny’s sixth goal of the season.
At 11:29 of the first period, Vyborny scored at the expiration of a Columbus power play to get his club on the board. Rick Nash fed a pass up to Vyborny from the right boards before the Blue Jackets winger threw a shot on net. The puck snuck between goalie Mike Smith’s left side and the post for the score.
Smith followed up the goal with a pad save on a point-blank shot by Nikolai Zherdev before Halpern scored to tie the game at one.
Collecting the puck behind the net, Mathieu Darche backhanded a centering pass to Halpern at the left side of the crease. From a few feet to Leclaire’s right side, Halpern fired a wrist shot glove-side into the top right corner of the net. The goal, scored at 14:14 of the period, was Halpern’s 13th of the season.
Responding to the score, Derek MacKenzie connected to regain the Blue Jackets lead. After Smith got caught trying to play the puck behind the net, Gilbert Brule sent a pass out front where MacKenzie tapped in his first career goal.
Early in the second period Nash and Manny Malhotra looked to connected on an odd-man rush. After Nash tipped a pass to Malhotra then regained control of the puck, the Columbus winger put an open shot on Smith. The Lightning netminder dropped down and deflected the puck into the corner, but moments later the Blue Jackets connected to build a two-goal lead.
After breaking up a play in the Tampa Bay zone, Zherdev carried the puck up the ice before passing to Michael Peca from the right wing. Firing a shot from the slot, Peca beat Smith to the middle of the stick side for his fifth goal of the season.
Despite the score, the Lightning posted a pair of goals in the final 3:25 of the period to send the game into the third tied at three. Connecting twice in a span of 62 seconds, St. Louis posted his 22nd goal of the season before Lecavalier scored on a penalty shot.
Intercepting a weak pass by Leclaire, Halpern fed the puck off the left side boards to St. Louis. The Lightning winger slapped a shot from the left faceoff dot, beating Leclaire high to the right glove side on the inside corner of the crossbar.
A little more than one minute later, Lecavalier picked off the puck in the neutral zone before skating in alone against Leclaire. Lecavalier was awarded the penalty shot when Jan Hejda dragged the Tampa Bay center down in front of the net.
Making a head fake as he skated to the goal mouth, Lecavalier backhanded a shot that solid through the five hole against Leclaire. The goal stood as Lecavalier’s 33rd of the season.
In the opening minutes of the third period, Lecavalier looked for his second goal of the night with a hard-angled shot from the bottom edge of the right faceoff circle. As Lecavalier sent a shot in the direction of the top corner of the net, Leclaire slid through the crease to tip away the puck.
Leclaire later made a strong pad save on Darche after the Tampa Bay forward cut into the zone and down the left wing. Skating alone, Darche fired a shot from the left faceoff dot but was held off on the play.
With less than four minutes remaining in the game, Chimera posted his 14th goal of the season to give Columbus the lead. Tipping in a slap shot by Zherdev from the left faceoff circle, Chimera redirected the puck through the five hole against Smith.
Jiri Novotny added an empty-net goal with one minute remaining in the frame, flipping a shot from the blue line to close out the scoring.
Tampa Bay out-shot Columbus 27-25 in the contest, with Smith making 20 saves on 24 shots-faced. Lecavalier led all Lightning skaters with five shots on goal.
With two points in the game, Halpern recorded his second multi-point outing since joining Tampa Bay. Halpern has posted three goals and six points in seven games since being acquired at the trade deadline.
After closing out their three-game trip, the Lightning will return to the St. Pete Times Forum on Tuesday, March 11 (7:30p.m., Sun Sports, 620 WDAE) for their fourth and final match-up against the New York Islanders this season.
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