RALEIGH, N.C. – Steve Downie and the Tampa Bay Lightning responded to a pair of frustrating divisional losses by ending a long road losing streak against another rival.
Downie scored the go-ahead goal midway through the third period and Antero Niittymaki bounced back from a bad weekend performance to help the Lightning beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 on Monday night. The win snapped Tampa Bay’s eight-game skid in Raleigh, including a pair of losses in the RBC Center earlier this season.
Tampa Bay was coming off a pair of losses to the Florida Panthers in a home-and-away set. On Thursday, the Lightning blew a 2-1 lead entering the final period at home by allowing two goals in about 3 1/2 minutes. Two days later, Niittymaki allowed five goals on 18 shots before being pulled in the third period.
But Downie’s goal gave Tampa Bay its first win in North Carolina since November 2007.
“We lost the last two games and that really hurt us,” Downie said. “We slipped a little in the standings. We needed this win.”
Ryan Malone and Vincent Lecavalier also scored for the Lightning, and Niittymaki finished with 20 saves on a relatively stress-free night.
“The last few games, the first shot was going in, so I was kind of hoping to make the first save and get some kind of momentum,” Niittymaki said. “I tried to build from that. I felt better and better as the game went on.”
Matt Cullen had a goal in the second period for the Hurricanes, and Chad LaRose scored in the third in his first game back from a lower-body injury that had sidelined him for 17 games. Carolina twice answered goals by the Lightning to tie it, but never could push ahead. The Hurricanes lost their third straight game.
In a matchup of the bottom two teams in the Southeast Division, Downie put the Lightning ahead for good at 9:11 of the third. Martin St. Louis charged up ice on the right side, then sent a pass back to the left for Downie, who beat Tom Kostopoulos to the puck and sent a shot past Cam Ward.
It was Downie’s second goal in three games. And to listen to coach Rick Tocchet, it could be just a start for the 22-year-old winger.
“The last minute of the game I had him out there,” Tocchet said. “He deserves to play. I’ve really enjoyed watching him play the last month, the last few weeks. The thing with Steve Downie is he’s earning it. Every practice he’s out there a half-hour before anybody’s out there. When you do that, things pay off.”
The Hurricanes didn’t generate a lot of great scoring chances to answer, and their power play wasn’t very good, either. Carolina went 0-for-4 with the man advantage and didn’t even get a shot on goal in its final two chances after going 3-for-8 in the previous three games.
“I was surprised because I felt pretty darn good, and we had a lot more action off our rush the past two games,” Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. “But when you move that slow and move the puck that slow, it’s going to happen.”
That put more pressure on Ward, who stopped 29 shots but couldn’t come up with the key save on the St. Louis-to-Downie charge up the ice.
Tampa Bay got the early lead when Malone – who was jostling with LaRose in front of the crease – corralled a loose rebound off a shot by Kurtis Foster and slipped the puck underneath Ward at 11:07.
That lead held until late in the second, when Cullen dug out a loose puck in a crowd near the crease and put it past Niittymaki – who was completely screened behind Mattias Ohlund and Mike Lundin – to tie it at 16:28.
Lecavalier scored on the power play about 2 1/2 minutes later, though the Hurricanes tied it again when LaRose got a step on the defence near the blue line and skated in to beat Niittymaki early in the third.
NOTES: Carolina reassigned LW Drayson Bowman to Albany of the American Hockey League to make room for LaRose. … Carolina LW Sergei Samsonov also returned after missing seven games with an upper-body injury. … Malone’s first-period goal was his first tally since Dec. 26, ending a drought of nine games. … Ward started for the 16th straight game. … Jeff Halpern’s assist on Lecavalier’s second-period goal extended his point streak to four games.