Lightning head into Olympic break with 4-2 win over Red Wings
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Lightning were stumbling to the Olympic break, injury-addled, offensively struggling and facing yet another team in dogged pursuit in the Atlantic Division.
Fortunately for the Lighting, it had enough to win a few decisive battles in the final minutes on Saturday. The yield was potentially massive.
Alex Killorn scored the game-winner with 3:11 remaining -- off a key faceoff win by little-used center Tom Pyatt -- as Tampa Bay banked two crucial points with a 4-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings.
Tampa Bay had lost four of five and was without its top two centers in Steven Stamkos -- who had targeted the game for his return from a broken leg suffered on Nov. 11 but was not medically cleared -- and Valtteri Filppula, who broke an ankle bone on Thursday.
But the Lightning found production from unusual sources in improving to 33-20-5. The Lightning eased seven points ahead of Detroit (26-20-12) in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper said a “cloud was lifted” by winning before the break.
“I don’t want to say playoff atmosphere,” he said. “I think both teams knew the break was coming up.”
Pyatt had his first goal in 11 months, and just his third assist of the season off the crucial late faceoff win.
Rookie left wing Ondrej Palat scored two goals and goaltender Ben Bishop played in what Cooper called “extreme” pain from an upper body injury that forced him out of a 4-1 loss to Toronto on Thursday. Bishop recorded 31 saves.
“It put us in a good mood and it’s big in the standings,” Bishop said of the win. “Everybody was right behind us.”
Killorn’s goal was his 14th of the season. Right wing Teddy Purcell earned his 23rd assist and was indicative, Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock said, of how the Lightning “competed harder.”
“We weren’t good enough,” he said. “They had a short lineup and we have to find a way to win. ... Win your battle. Look at those last two goals. We didn’t do enough.”
Tampa Bay trailed twice, but scored the final three goals. The Lightning swarmed in the final 10 minutes and twice appeared to have the go-ahead score in the third.
But goaltender Jimmy Howard snapped down Victor Hedman’s blast on an odd-man rush, while right wing Nikita Kucherov somehow hit the pipe with a flick while standing next to the goal with 9:50 left. Howard finished with 24 saves.
“We had some chances. It’s tough,” Red Wings left wing Henrik Zetterberg said. “That was a big game, important points.”
Kucherov missed a penalty shot with 1:36 left, but Palat added an empty-netter for his second goal of the game and 14th of the season.
Right wing Daniel Alfredsson gave Detroit a 1-0 lead with 2:42 left in the first period.
The Swede was alone in front of Bishop when center Pavel Datsyuk claimed a loose puck behind the net and circled for the open pass.
The goal was the 14th of the season for Aldredsson. Datsyuk had his 18th assist for the 800th point of his 12-year career.
Tampa Bay used its second man advantage to tie the game 1-1, less than two minutes into the second period.
Palat flipped in his first power-play goal of the season, following up his rebound of Howard’s save. The score, off assists from Hedman (26) and Martin St. Louis (31), broke a 0-for-17 Tampa Bay shortfall with a man advantage.
Detroit used the leftover momentum from an unsuccessful power play to regain a 2-1 lead with 8:41 left in the second period. Right wing Tomas Jurco bullied past center Nate Thompson to backhand his third goal of the year.
Tampa Bay’s grinders tied the score with 2:46 left in the period when Pyatt held up the Red Wings at their blue line. The Lightning emerged with the puck and bulled by defenseman Jonathan Ericsson to carom in his first goal of the season.
The score came just two minutes after the Lightning’s second successful penalty kill of the period.
NOTES: This was the final game for both teams before the Olympic break. Tampa Bay will send five players to Sochi while Detroit will send 10 players and coach Mike Babcock (Canada). ... Tampa Bay needs the break to heal. Two-time goal-scoring champion C Steve Stamkos has yet to be medically cleared after breaking a leg on Nov. 11 and Valtteri Filppula (second on the Lightning with 20 goals and 41 points) suffered a non-displaced fracture of his right ankle in the third period of a 4-1 loss to Toronto on Thursday. He will miss at least three weeks. Tampa Bay recalled 2011 first-round draft pick C Vladislav Namestnikov from Syracuse of the American Hockey League, where he had 13 goals and 30 points in 31 games. ... Lightning G Ben Bishop also left Thursday night’s game at the second intermission with an undisclosed upper-body injury and missed practice on Friday but started Saturday. Tampa Bay had recalled G Kristers Gudlevskis from Syracuse. ... The game was the 6,000th in Red Wings history (2,761-2,320-104 with 815 ties entering play). ... Red Wings RW Gustav Nyquist has nine goals and 14 points in his past 12 games but was held scoreless.