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Lightning ring out Hurricanes 3-1

The Tampa Bay Lightning ended 2016 by beating the visiting Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 on Saturday night, making it the sixth game of their last seven in which they’ve picked up points and keeping them in the thick of a cluttered Atlantic Division race.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Lightning
Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiey makes one of his 26 saves in Tampa Bay’s 3-1 win over Carolina Saturday night.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 on Saturday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa.

It might be something of a stretch to say the Lightning are “back” (however you choose to define that), at least as long as key contributors shuffle in and out of the lineup with varying degrees of injury. But to their credit, the measures they’re taking to keep their heads above water until they get some of those players back on a consistent basis are yielding positive results. 19,092 were on hand for the team’s 84th consecutive sellout at Amalie Arena and witnessed a victory to cap off 2016.

With tonight’s win, Tampa Bay has earned points in six of their last seven games, seven of their last eight, going 4-2-2 since December 14 and having not lost back-to-back games in regulation since December 10.

Tonight, the Lightning were on the board first when Brian Boyle, once again doing a great job in front of the net tapped in a rebound off Cam Ward’s leg pad for a power play goal at 7:35. The initial shot was taken by Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman got the secondary assist.

It’s almost impossible to overstate how much Boyle’s hard work has meant to the Lightning during this stretch. Unfortunately, there may be bad news on that front as he only logged 9:07 on the ice and didn’t appear in the third period. As is usually the case with injuries, an immediate update was not available immediately after the game.

At 13:55, with Carolina’s Noah Hanafin in the box for Tripping, Tyler Johnson made a steal at the red line and broke in alone on Ward but was unable to convert the shorthanded opportunity.

The Lightning found themselves with a two man advantage for 35 seconds in the final minute. At 19:51, just after the five-on-three expired, Jonathan Drouin wired a snapshot that beamed in about an inch above the ice for the Lightning’s second power play goal. Kucherov and Ondrej Palat registered assists on the play.

After one, the Lightning held a 2-0 lead and a 12-6 advantage in shots.

Carolina came out much more aggressive in the second and quickly erased the shot deficit. But the Lightning did a great job of clearing the puck out of potentially dangerous situations.

After a nifty move to free himself up for a shot that didn’t go in, Matthew Peca fed Alex Killorn who used his backhand to stretch the lead to 3-0 at 13:32. Hedman was credited with the second assist.

Just under two minutes later at 15:21, a long pass from Jaccob Slavin allowed Sebastian Aho to slip in behind the Tampa Bay defense to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy and put Carolina on the board. Teuvo Teravainen offered additional assistance on the play.

3-1 Tampa Bay was the score heading into the third period.

As expected, the Hurricanes pushed to tie the game up in the third period but the Lightning was able to fend them off successfully.

A nice moment for the Hurricanes (that had no impact on the result of the game) happened in the waning seconds of the game. Goalie Cam Ward was pulled for an extra attacker, which didn’t pay off. But with 7.6 seconds remaining, emergency goalie Jorge Alves came in long enough to hear his name announced over the PA and log actual NHL ice time. Alves, 37, is the Carolina equipment manager and was pressed into service when regular back up Eddie Lack fell ill last night. He didn’t face any shots in this, his NHL debut.

After playing three games in four days, the Lightning will get a couple of days off before resuming this season-long five-game homestand when they host the Winnipeg Jets Tuesday night.