TAMPA, Fla. – Karri Ramo recorded his first career assist and stopped a personal best 38 shots on Saturday night, back-stopping the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 2-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes. Lifted by Jeff Halpern’s third-period goal, Tampa Bay skated to their fourth win in their previous five games at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Jussi Jokinen added one goal and one assist as the Lightning hosted the Hurricanes for the fourth and final time this season, taking a 4-3 series lead.
Tampa Bay opened the game on the attack when Vincent Lecavalier snapped a shot on Cam Ward only 12 seconds into the first period. Skating hard up the middle of the ice, Lecavalier collected a loose puck before backhanding a shot against Ward. The Hurricanes netminder closed his pads to make the save.
Minutes later Erik Cole skated through the slot before putting a back-handed shot against Ramo. Sergei Samsonov followed up on the rebound, but Ramo stretched across his crease to stop the shot with a left toe save. Eric Staal tried to follow up the rebound from a few feet to the right of the crease but Ramo stole the shot with a glove save.
Shortly after the expiration of a Lightning power play, Lecavalier carried the puck down the right side before throwing a pass in front to Jokinen. The Tampa Bay winger fired a shot on goal, but Ward slid across the goal line to make the save before Ryan Bayda cleared the puck. Ward later held off Martin St. Louis with a glove save on a slap shot off the right wing side.
Despite the strong efforts by both goaltenders, the Hurricanes got on the board with 2:36 remaining in the first when Chad LaRose connected for his eighth goal of the season.
Skating on an odd-man rush, Trevor Letowski skated down the right wing before sending a tape-to-tape pass through a Lightning defender to LaRose. As he crashed towards the net, LaRose slid the puck to the left of Ramo for the score.
It didn’t take long for Tampa Bay to respond, however, as Jokinen opened the period with his 16th goal of the season.
Scoring with the man-advantage only 18 seconds into the period, Jokinen connected on a breakaway off a long go-ahead pass by Dan Boyle. Jokinen switched to the backhand as he approached the net, sending a shot into the right corner at the glove side.
Ramo picked up an assist on the play, his first NHL point.
“[Boyle] made a great play and Jussi [Jokinen] is probably one of the best in the league in breakways,” Ramo said, “so he buried it.”
Getting back to his goaltending duties shortly after the play, Ramo made a couple of strong saves to keep Carolina off the board. Ramo made the initial save on a shot from the right circle by Cole, then made a pad save on a rebound-attempt by Staal. Although Staal tried to get a couple of whacks at the puck in front of the net, he couldn’t get to the puck for a second shot before being knocked down by Boyle.
As the Lightning looked to take over the lead during the period, Halpern and Michel Ouellet skated into the offensive zone on an odd-man rush. Halpern fed a pass through the bottom of the slot to Ouellet, but the one-timed shot went over the net on the play.
Early in the third Ouellet was the passer on a scoring chance to the right of Ward. As Filip Kuba jumped up into the play, Ouellet sent a pass to the side of the net. Kuba tried to redirect the puck, but Ward moved across his crease in time to make a right pad save.
Despite the save, Halpern connected a little less than six minutes into the period to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead.
After Alexandre Picard knocked Cole off the puck in the Hurricanes zone, he got the puck to Jokinen for the feed to Halpern. As Halpern skated down the right side he fired a wrist shot around a Carolina defender, beating Ward over the left glove side.
The goal was Halpern’s 19th of the season, his second game-winner and ninth overall in 15 games since joining the Lightning.
Midway through the frame Jeff Hamilton tested Ramo with a one-timed shot from the left faceoff circle. After accepting the pass off the blue line, Hamilton slapped the puck, but Ramo made a glove save.
Carolina went on to pull Ward for the man-advantage, but were unable to score and force overtime.
With seconds remaining in the period, Joe Corvo snapped a shot from the right wing circle. The shot tipped on the way to the net, sailing high into the air before dropping towards the crease. Jumping over Scott Walker, Ramo grabbed the puck to prevent the score and hold on for the win.
Ramo stopped a career-high 38 shots and improved to 4-2-2 in his previous four starts. Ramo is 5-1-1 in his last seven starts at the St. Pete Times Forum, posting a 2.57 goals-against average during the stretch.
“Give him credit,” head coach John Tortorella said of Ramo, “he’s played very well in his starts here. He made some key saves. There were a lot of shots on net, but I thought our team did very well in front of him.”
Although Tampa Bay was out-shot 39-21 in the contest, they held Carolina scoreless through seven power play opportunities. Staal, the Hurricanes’ leading point-scorer, had a game-high nine shots on goal, but was held off the scoresheet for the third time in 12 games during the month of March.
With the win, the Lightning handed the Hurricanes only their fourth loss through their previous 21 games.
“They’re a good team and we respect them,” Letowski said of the Lightning. “They always give us tough games and we’ve had a tough time beating them, especially in this building, and it was a battle tonight.”
Tampa Bay closes out their home schedule and the current four-game home stand on Monday, March 31 (7:30p.m., Sun Sports, 620 WDAE) with a game against the Atlanta Thrashers. Playing in the seventh of eight meetings between the teams, the Lightning will host their Southeast Division rival for the fourth and final time this season.