Lightning recover for shootout win
TAMPA, Fla. -- Allowing another late goal was disconcerting. Allowing a division foe a point in the standings was disappointing.
But on a night when they could not make three regulation leads last and needed a standout effort from their goaltender in the final minutes just to reach overtime, the Tampa Bay Lightning will take it.
Right winger Nikita Kucherov scored the only goal in a shootout and the Lightning beat the Ottawa Senators 4-3 on Thursday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Defenseman Victor Hedman had three assists as Tampa Bay (30-16-5) ended a five-game winless streak at home and won consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 3.
"If we didn't win that shootout, we would have been pretty upset and disappointed," said rookie center Tyler Johnson, who scored the first short-hander of his NHL career. "We sat back on the lead there and that's something we shouldn't do, and they were able to bury the key goal.
"But that's what happens when you're trying to play too much defense. It's too bad we gave up the point to them, but I guess we can't complain too much."
Ottawa fell to 22-19-10 despite using its league-best road power play to score two goals. The Senators used their point to remain two points from a wild-card spot -- albeit in 10th place -- in the Eastern Conference.
Senators bruiser Chris Neil tied the score at 3 with 2:18 left when he muscled through two defenders to flick a wobbling puck past Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop (33 saves). The goal was the right winger's sixth of the season. Center Zack Smith and defenseman Erik Karlsson had assists.
Karlsson added a goal for Ottawa.
"We're down late in the third and to come back and tie it, that's huge," Neil said. "We're trying to crawl out of ninth (in the Eastern Conference) and get ourselves a playoff spot."
Left winger Ondrej Palat had given Tampa Bay its third lead of the game with 14:29 left by tapping in a Martin St. Louis pass from the right goal mouth. The Lightning captain hustled to keep a loose puck inside the offensive zone, rushed the slot to draw defenders and found Palat behind Ottawa defenseman Cody Ceci. The goal was Palat's 11th this season.
"Marty passed to me. It was an awesome pass, so it was easy for me," Palat said.
St. Louis extended his points streak to nine games with the assist and Hedman posted his 19th point overall.
Bishop beat his former team for the third straight time, making several clutch saves in the third as the Senators used a strong forecheck to generate numerous chances.
An interference penalty on defenseman Chris Phillips with six minutes left sapped Ottawa's momentum until a strong shift by Neil's line preceding the tying goal.
Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson (35 saves) stopped center Valtteri Filppula on a breakaway early and held on as Tampa Bay swarmed. Kucherov beat him to begin the shootout.
"It's a skills competition. It should be reserved for all-star games," Anderson said of shootouts. "They came out flying. Give them credit. But we weathered the storm."
Tampa Bay took a 1-0 lead with 5:28 left in the first period on a short-handed goal by Johnson. Nine seconds into a hooking minor, Johnson began the scoring sequence by winning a faceoff against center Kyle Turris, took a pass from Hedman and skated in alone to wrist his 13th goal of the season.
"I was just going down 3-on-1," Johnson said. "I faked a little pass and (Anderson) cheated short side. I was lucky it went in."
Karlsson, who had allowed Johnson unfettered access to the goal by playing a potential passing lane, responded 40 seconds later by snapping in a rebound for his 12th goal of the season.
Left winger Clarke MacArthur and center Jason Spezza, whose shot had deflected off Bishop and onto Karlsson's stick, each posted their 21st assists of the season. Karlsson leads all NHL defensemen with 49 points.
The Lightning pulled back ahead 2-1 less than four minutes into the second period with help from an uncommon source. Right winger B.J. Crombeen, a grinder who earlier brawled with Neal, redirected in a deep Hedman blast for his second goal of the season after being allowed to set up on the edge of the crease. Hedman and Filppula had assists.
Ottawa responded again on the power play with 3:03 left in the period. Spezza found MacArthur completely alone for a cross-ice feed and flick past a defenseless Bishop. Spezza and right winger Bobby Ryan were credited with assists.
NOTES: Lightning C Steven Stamkos said Thursday that his right tibia is "the best it's felt" since it was broken on Nov. 11 in Boston. The two-time goal-scoring champion is targeting a February return to the Lightning and to claim his spot with Team Canada in the Sochi Olympics. The Lightning has seven games remaining before the Olympic break. ... Ottawa entered with the best road power play in the league (26.8 percent) and scored twice. ... Lightning RW Martin St. Louis extended his points streak to nine games (eight goals, five assists). ... According to the Ottawa Sun, Senators general manager Bryan Murray is hoping to acquire a top-six forward by the March 5 trade deadline. ... Senators D Marc Methot was scratched for a second straight game. According to the Ottawa Citizen, he was already displeased with being held out of a win over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday while nursing a minor hip injury. The veteran is averaging two fewer minutes of ice time per game this season than last with a logjam of players at his position.
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