Tampa Bay can exhale. At least for the time being.
Powered by a two-goal performance from forward Nate Thompson, the Lightning snapped a 5-game losing streak and found themselves tied for second place in the Southeast Division with the Winnipeg Jets.
Both teams sit six points behind the Carolina Hurricanes, who will miss goalie Cam Ward for an extended period due to a sprained knee ligament he suffered on Sunday. Ward’s injury tightens up the division race, as the ’Canes are sure to struggle without their star goalie.
That made the Lightning’s 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils Monday night even more vital. Despite their recent poor play, with more than half the season remaining, the Bolts have plenty of time to make up the six point margin.
If they play like they did against the Devils (10-8-5) — who have lost six games in a row to fall behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Atlantic Division lead — the Bolts won’t be out of contention much longer.
Tampa Bay scored five goals against the Devils — even on the second night of a back-to-back — despite center Steven Stamkos’ 10-game point streak coming to an end.
It was the line of Thompson, center Cory Conacher and forward Ondrej Palat who powered the Bolts offense Monday night.
Thompson scored in the first (5) and third (6), assisted by Conacher (12, 13) each time.
Thompson’s goals sandwiched forward Martin St. Louis’ (6) and center Alex Killorn’s (4) in the second period, extending the Tampa Bay lead to 4-0 early in the third.
New Jersey, who was full of emotion and energy all night, tried to make things interesting late, bringing the score to within two courtesy of goals by center Adam Henrique (6) and forward Patrick Elias (6).
However, Anders Lindback, who got the start in net for Tampa Bay, played well, making 25 of 27 saves and not allowing the Devils to get any closer than two.
Forward BJ Crombeen added his first goal of the season, flipping home an empty-net goal at 18:40 to ice the game away.
The victory was an important one for the Lightning, as they were finally able to get over the hump and grab the elusive streak-breaking victory.
Thursday night presents another key opportunity for the Bolts, as they travel home to take on Winnipeg at 7:30 p.m. EST. A victory there will vault the Bolts into second place by themselves with an opportunity to pursue Carolina for the division lead.
Monday night was a step in the right direction for the Lightning, but the Devils, despite their best efforts, are completely reeling, having lost eight of their last nine games.
New Jersey will try to rebound Thursday night, when they host the Buffalo Sabres. The Devils will try to avenge a 4-3 shootout loss in Buffalo just last Saturday.
The puck drops at 7 p.m. EST.