Coming off an embarrassing loss 24 hours earlier and with their playoff chances in desperate need of help, the Tampa Bay Lightning got a lift from one of their old guys – Martin St. Louis.
The 36-year-old St. Louis scored three goals and set up another to lead the Lightning to a much-needed 4-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday.
”You want to fight to the end,” St. Louis said after the Lightning bounced back from an 8-1 loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh. ”Every game is important. They are fun games to play, especially when you are in them. Yesterday was obviously not a fun game to play. Tonight, it was a good experience game for our young guys. For us, our playoffs have started. This is our playoffs right now. We are just trying to survive and I think we did that today getting two points.
With 20 games left in the regular season, the Lightning have 62 points, putting them six points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
”We still do believe,” Tampa Bay center and leading scorer Steven Stamkos said after the Lightning snapped a two-game losing streak. ”We have 20 games left and that’s a lot of hockey. If we get going and get on a streak, anything can happen.”
St. Louis had some help. Mathieu Garon made 19 saves and set up St. Louis’ first goal and Teddy Purcell added three assists for Tampa Bay, which has gone 11-5-2 in its last 18.
Alexei Ponikarovsky, Petr Sykora and Zach Parise scored for the Devils, who dropped their second straight game after going 9-1-1 since the All-Star break. The setback spoiled the debut of defenseman Marek Zidlicky, acquired from Minnesota on Friday.
Defenseman Matt Gilroy gave the Lightning the lead for good at 3-2 when he scored 41 seconds after Sykora tied the game. St. Louis led a rush into the Devils’ end and slid a pass under defenseman Bryce Salvador that Gilroy tapped into an open net.
St. Louis, who got his first two goals in the second period, got what proved to be the winner and capped his second hat trick this month and the sixth of his career by re-directing Purcell’s shot from the right side boards past a defenseless Martin Brodeur at 10:18. It was his 22nd goal of the season and sixth in the last six games.
”He played great,” Stamkos said. ”It doesn’t surprise anyone. He is one of the best players in the game. It was good to see a couple go in for him. He is a leader on this team, and he led by example tonight.”
The Devils got a final power play with a minute to go when St. Louis was sent off but they did not come close to tying the game.
St. Louis wiped out a 1-0 Devils’ lead in the second period. Garon set up his first goal with a breakout pass that Stamkos nudged forward to the right wing for a snap shot between the circles that whizzed into the top corner of the net.
St. Louis’ second goal was the easiest of the three. It came on a power-play rebound of a shot by Purcell with the net open.
”We fell asleep early in the second period and they took over the game,” said Brodeur, who only faced 16 shots. ”We tried to battle back but we made too many big mistakes for them to score goals.”
Ponikarovsky had given the Devils a 1-0 lead 12:07 into the first period with an unassisted goal. He stole the puck from Ryan Malone low in the right circle, skated in front and easily beat Garon, who is 9-3-2 in his last 14 starts.
Garon was outstanding, especially early in the third period when he stopped Zach Parise in close on consecutive shots on a power play.
”We’re in a position where we have to win games,” Garon said. ”It doesn’t matter if you lose 2-1 or 8-1. It’s in the past, and we can only focus on the future.”
Devils coach Peter DeBoer wasn’t happy with his team.
”I thought we were asleep,” he said. ”No excuse. We talked about them getting beat last night like they did. They have guys in that room with a lot of pride. Obviously, St. Louis would be at the top of that list. You know you are going to see their best game and we didn’t respond in the right way.”
NOTES: Purcell has points in a career-high six straight games. … St. Louis’ other hat trick this month came Feb. 4 vs. Florida. … Lightning C Vincent Lecavalier missed his fourth straight game with an upper-body injury. … Devils rookie D Adam Larsson returned to the lineup after missing 10 games with a bruised lower back. … The Lightning will play 10 of their next 12 at home. … Garon got his second assist of the season. …The Devils will be in New York on Monday night to play the Rangers.