If there was one team the Tampa Bay Lightning had dominated in this lockout-shortened season, it was the Carolina Hurricanes. In four games before Sunday, the Lightning outscored Carolina 18-4, winning all four times.
On Sunday night, however, in the battle between two non-playoff teams, it was the Hurricanes who had their revenge. Carolina, behind three straight first-period goals, picked up their only win against Tampa Bay this season and sent the Lightning home with their sixth straight loss.
Jiri Tlusty scored two goals and Alexander Semin picked up three points in the 3-2 victory. Former Bolt Dan Ellis made 37 of 39 saves for Carolina in his fifth win of the season.
The Lightning — who continue to fail to show any improvement as the season winds down — didn’t even let fans settle in their seats before falling behind 1-0. In Anders Lindback’s first game back after missing 13 with an ankle injury, he was thrown back into the fire that is the back-end of the Lightning’s defense.
The first goal, from Semin (12), came just 16 seconds into the game after Steven Stamkos turned the puck over behind the net to Eric Staal. Staal found Semin in front to take the lead.
Tlusty (20) scored his first goal of the game when he attempted to pass across the ice and deflected the puck off Victor Hedman’s skate for a goal. He jammed in his second goal (21) when Ryan Malone failed to clear a rebound near the end of the first period.
Lindback allowed three goals on the first 15 shots he faced.
“I don’t know what is with us in the first period,” Hedman said. “We always battle back, which is the good part, but we would rather be up a few goals instead of behind.”
The Bolts did battle back of course, slowly but surely. Stamkos scored his 28th goal of the season on a power play in the second period with his distinctive one-timer from the left faceoff circle and Martin St. Louis scored his 13th goal at 2:16 in the third.
Nonetheless, despite outshooting Carolina 16-4 in the final period, the Bolts could not close the gap. Carolina, who was playing the second night of a back-to-back after losing 5-3 to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, was thrilled to escape with the victory.
“ They’ve had our number recently, but the guys have been playing so hard, and we’ve been pleased with their effort,” coach Kirk Muller said. “We got off track last night and wanted to get back on track, and thanks to tonight, we did.”
Carolina will host the New York Islanders on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in its second-to-last home game of the season. The Hurricanes are set to miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
Tampa Bay, on the other hand, is desperately hoping to figure something out in its final three games. The team could not care less that St. Louis and Stamkos are near the top of many offensive leader boards. St. Louis leads the NHL with 42 assists, and Stamkos trails Alex Ovechkin by two goals for the goals title.
They each sit within two points of the idle Sidney Crosby for the points lead.
“We’ve got to figure it out,” Hedman said. “We’ve got to figure it out for the upcoming three games.”
The Bolts will play their second-to-last home game on Wednesday night when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7:30 p.m.
“It’s probably a little deflating for some of these guys to know that we’re out of this, but for me, it’s pride, I want to see who’s got that fire in the belly,” coach Jon Cooper said. “Guys are playing for jobs next year … We want to see the guys regardless of where you are in the standings [who are] going to bring it every night.”