The Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Carolina Hurricanes a few weeks ago with a pair of gift goals.
The Lightning’s 2-1 victory over the Canes was more about goaltender Ben Bishop, a big man in net who always comes up big against Carolina. It was about some tight-checking defensive work that limited the Canes’ offensive chances, and this night, just enough offense at Amalie Arena.
“It was pretty ugly both ways but got better as the game went on and was a little cleaner,” Canes captain Eric Staal said. “We had some good looks but we’re finding it hard to score goals. That’s been the story for a while and it’s frustrating.”
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It also was frustrating for the Canes (10-21-4) to have another strong goaltending effort go to waste. Cam Ward faced 38 shots and made a handful of spectacular stops – his save against Brett Connolly on a third-period Tampa Bay power play may have been the best – but Carolina again was stymied offensively.
“He’s been great,” defenseman John-Michael Liles said. “He’s made the timely saves and been huge for us.”
The Lightning’s first goal came after Ondrej Palat forced Canes defenseman Tim Gleason to turn over the puck, then fed Nikita Kucherov for a one-timer almost nine minutes into the first period.
In the third, Alex Killorn snapped off a shot from the slot for a 2-0 lead. The puck appeared to glance off Gleason and Ward had no chance of stopping the top-shelf shot.
Canes defenseman Andrej Sekera finally beat Bishop with a quick wrister with about six minutes remaining in regulation. But the Lightning (22-11-4) clamped down, Bishop made some stops and a late high-sticking penalty against Staal hurt Carolina.
After the three-day Christmas break, the Canes – who flew to Tampa on Saturday morning – were sluggish early.
“It didn’t look like we could make a play in the first 20 minutes,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “The next period we got better but then we spent too much time in our own zone and too much time on the penalty kill in the third.”
Kucherov has 15 goals this season and three have come against the Canes. He scored twice in the Lightning’s 2-1 victory over Carolina on Dec. 11, both after fortunate bounces.
A wicked carom off a stanchion behind the Canes net resulted in Kucherov’s first score in that game, and the winner came when the puck glanced off the skate of Canes defenseman Ron Hainsey.
Ward also was the hard-luck loser in that game, and Peters gave him another chance Saturday. Anton Khudobin had started the past two games, beating the New Jersey Devils 2-1 in a shootout on Tuesday.
In four previous games, Bishop had a 4-0 record with a 1.24 goals-against average, two shutouts and a .968 save percentage. Evgeni Nabokov was in net for the Dec. 11 game, and Bishop was returning Saturday after missing four games with a lower-body injury suffered Dec. 15 against Pittsburgh.
A Bishop pad save in the first denied Liles on a good scoring chance. Bishop also made a couple of strong stops in the second period, and was fortunate when a puck hit the skate of Sekera during a Carolina power play and skidded wide of the net.
The game had a few chippy moments. Tampa Bay’s Ryan Callahan was called for boarding on a crunching hit from behind on Canes defenseman Michal Jordan in the first period.
Jordan was on the ice for a few moments and missed the remainder of the first but did return to the game.
The Hurricanes face the Montreal Canadiens on Monday at PNC Arena and it could mark the return of Jordan Staal. The center suffered a broken bone in his right leg in a Sept. 23 preseason game, but has been practicing with the team and is eager to play.
The Canes can use him.