COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Tampa Bay Lightning started fast and then hung on.
Most importantly, they feel as though they are starting to string some good games together.
“Things are obviously going better now,” said Steven Stamkos, who had a goal and an assist in the Lightning’s 3-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night. “When we had a lead in the third, it was almost automatic for us last year. That’s what we have to get back to.”
One big reason was Mathieu Garon, who stopped 26 shots—including several down the stretch when the Blue Jackets were turning up the heat.
“We were patient in the third. We closed (out) everything,” said Garon, who spent two seasons in Columbus and returned for the first time since signing with Tampa Bay last summer. “We didn’t give them much. That’s how we have to close a game.”
Stamkos’ second-period goal gave him the NHL lead with 20. He came into the night sharing it with Milan Michalek of idle Ottawa.
Tampa Bay has lost games on late goals. Not this time.
“We’ve been in this situation so many times,” coach Guy Boucher said. “We were able to get away with it.”
Blair Jones and Eric Brewer also added rare goals for the Lightning. Brewer scored for the first time in 47 games.
“It’s been a while,” Brewer said. “Maybe I should buy a Powerball.”
The Lightning won their second in a row but were victorious for just the third time in 10 starts.
“When you’re winning games, you’re gaining confidence,” Stamkos said. “You’re going out and doing things and not thinking about them. When we were on our skid there, maybe you’re thinking too much; you don’t want to make a mistake. You saw in the third period we didn’t really back up as much. We were still putting pressure on. That’s a key. When things are going well, you’re having that confidence. You’re not scared to lose.”
Garon made several big saves in the closing minutes as the Blue Jackets turned up the pressure. Umberger’s blind, between-the-legs centring pass to Derek Dorsett was loose in the crease for an instant before Garon covered it.
The Blue Jackets had a man advantage with three minutes left when rookie John Moore had a clear shot from the slot, but was wide left. Garon also blocked a rising slapshot by Nikita Nikitin with his chest with just over a minute remaining.
“It’s huge for us, keeping that lead and getting two wins in a row,” Garon said. “It’s the start of something here.”
With the Lightning up 2-1 midway through the second, Stamkos picked up what proved to be the decisive goal—thanks to some sloppy play in the defensive zone by the Blue Jackets.
Jared Boll and Nikitin had chances to clear the puck but failed before Stamkos took a precise setup from Vincent Lecavalier to score.
“He kind of faked the guy and gave it right back,” Stamkos said. “When you’re playing with really good players you have to kind of expect those things. He made a great play.”
R.J. Umberger and Rick Nash scored for Columbus, which also got two assists from Vinny Prospal.
“You can’t get behind in this league,” Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel said. “We had chances but couldn’t beat their goaltender early on. We had to find a way to do that, especially when we had momentum going our way.”
NOTES: Dorsett returned to the ice for Columbus after missing two games (left lower leg) following a collision with Boston G Tim Thomas a week earlier. … Before the game, Prospal was honoured for becoming the 268th player to play in 1,000 NHL games—reaching the mark on Nov. 25 against Buffalo. He played in 468 games for the Lightning. … Tampa Bay C Nate Thompson (lower body) left in the first period and didn’t return. … Umberger’s goal was his 80th with the Blue Jackets, eight shy of tying Geoff Sanderson for third on the club’s career list.