Hey, remember when these two teams met here in Tampa just over two weeks ago, also a 2-1 Lightning win? This one was kind of like that only different. For one thing, Ben Bishop started in goal for the Lightning, making his return to the lineup after missing four games with a lower body injury (last time, it was Evgeni Nabokov getting the start and win). For another, this one was more of a workmanlike effort than a spectacular one, at least on the part of Bishop. For whatever reason, Carolina's Cam Ward has come up with some pretty remarkable saves against the Lightning, although he's 0-2 for his efforts. At any rate, the margin of victory could have been higher (the ongoing inefficiency of a power play that was 0 for 6 tonight should be considered a legitimately serious concern now) but the Lightning emerge with the squeaker win and the resultant two points.
"I don't know if it will go down as one of the most exciting games of the year. The puck was bouncing all over the place, so I guess the guys were rusty on both teams a little bit." - Lightning head coach Jon Cooper
With both teams returning to work after the Christmas break, Tampa Bay opened the scoring at 8:50 of the first. Just 17 seconds after killing a holding penalty on Ryan Callahan. Nikita Kucherov scored on an assist from Ondrej Palat.
The 1-0 Lightning lead would hold up through the first and second intermissions.
At 4:53 of the third, Alex Killorn jumped on the ice to start a shift and found himself with the puck just inside the blue line. From there, he snapped off a wrister that caught Ward off guard and the lead was 2-0. Callahan and Valtteri Filppula were credited with assists.
Easy breathing time for the Lightning and their fans last about nine minutes, until Andrej Sekera scored at the 14:04 mark to halve the lead and make things interesting. Eric Staal and Nathan Gerbe chipped in with helpers on the play.
What followed was the customary frantic, late game pressure, including about a minute of empty Carolina net, but Tampa Bay was able to hang on. They were aided somewhat by a high-sticking call whistled against Staal with 3:19 remaining. The Lightning were unable to convert but being shorthanded for two of the last three-plus minutes took some bite out of the Hurricanes attack.
"We scored first, had the lead going into the third and won the game in regulation, and that's what we want to see." - Cooper
On the night, Bishop was solid and dependable in every way that the Lightning have come to count on, stopping 25 of 26 shots. He was aided by a Lightning defense that did a good job throughout of limiting Carolina's scoring opportunities. On the other end, Ward had to come up with a handful of circus saves to keep his team in the game. He fended off 36 of the 38 shots that came his way.
The Lightning will complete this three-game homestand on Monday when they host division rivals Toronto.
- The Lightning have now won back-to-back games for the first time since winning four straight between November 22 and December 1.
- It is their second consecutive home win and, for the moment, returns them to sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division.
- This was the second of three regular season meetings between the Hurricanes and Lightning and the last at Amalie Arena. They will meet for the third and final time at Carolina on January 27.
- Bishop is now 5-0-0 in career starts against the Hurricanes.
- Over his past eight games, Kucherov has scored six goals with five assists.
- The Lightning honored Dr. Roy Kaplan as the 19th Lightning Community Hero of the year during the first period of tonight's game. Kaplan, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate the money to Community Tampa Bay. Since 1989, Kaplan has been serving as an agent of change to break down the social barriers triggered by racial, religious and cultural differences. Until 2004, he directed the National Conference for Christians and Jews, which is now known as Community Tampa Bay, an organization devoted to ending all forms of discrimination. While serving in this role, in 1991, he developed and founded ANYTOWN, a youth leadership and diversity education program meant to dissolve discrimination in the community. This program has since been lauded as a Best Practice by the US Department of Education and has been recommended as a top program for preventing juvenile delinquency by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Kaplan is also the founder of the annual MLK interfaith worship service, which has been a catalyst for bringing diverse backgrounds together to honor Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy principled on peace and understanding, and to act out these principles. In addition to being named tonight's Lightning Community Hero, Kaplan has also been awarded the WMNF's Peace and Justice Award (2011), Hillsborough County Bar Association's Liberty Bell Award (2006), US Department of Education "Hero of Education Award" (1998), Tampa Urban League's Blance Armwood Baity Community Service Award (1995), Tampa/Hillsborough Human Rights Council's Humanitarian Service Award (1994), and St. Petersburg Chapter of the NAACP's Community Service Award (1994).