Tampa Bay Lightning 5, Carolina Hurricanes 2 - Game 16 Recap

USA TODAY Sports

A disappointing effort in front of a capacity crowd cost the Hurricanes first place in the Southeast Division on Saturday night, as the Tampa Bay Lightning reclaimed their spot atop the division by beating the Canes 5-2.

After holding first place in the Southeast Division for about three weeks, the Carolina Hurricanes are again looking up at the Tampa Bay Lightning in the standings.

Mathieu Garon improved to 2-0 against the Canes (8-7-1) this season, with a .957 save percentage and 1.50 goals-against in those games, as the Lightning (9-7-1) defeated the Canes 5-2 in front of a sellout crowd at PNC Arena on Saturday night. The Canes were within one goal after the first and second periods, but a lethargic third period opened the door for the Lightning to tally a four-goal period and leave with an easy win.

"It's unacceptable," defenseman Jay Harrison said. "We can live with it when we play our game and fully execute for 60 minutes and come up short. That's going to happen. But that wasn't the case tonight. We were a little soft in the third period."

Dan Ellis, making his fifth start of the season for Carolina, was on the money early, denying Steven Stamkos on a point-blank one-timer six minutes in, then the Canes' Jussi Jokinen whiffed on a one-time setup from Tim Wallace a few minutes later. The Lightning took the lead at 10:54 when Marc-Andre Bergeron's weak wrist shot from the top of the far circle eluded Ellis through a Benoit Pouliot screen.

Similar to Thursday's game against Winnipeg, the early goal against seemed to deflate Carolina, which struggled to maintain offensive pressure for the remainder of the period.

The second period saw the Canes stuck in the same offensive malaise to begin the second period, which took a scary turn on an early power play when a puck caromed off Garon and ricocheted off the side of Alexander Semin's head. Semin was down on the ice for a minute and slowly skated off, heading to the locker room for repairs but eventually returning later in the period.

From there, both teams let good offensive chances go by the wayside. Semin tipped an Eric Staal shot right into Garon's glove, and a couple minutes later Teddy Purcell added his name to a very popular swing-and-a-miss club when he whiffed to kill a Lightning 3-on-2.

Garon kept the Canes at bay through two periods, and Lightning coach Guy Boucher praised his goaltender's poise. "If your goaltender is not at their best, this game is too good, this league is too good, and every team is almost equal so your goaltenders have to do their job."

The Lightning opened the scoring in the third off the stick of Pouliot at 2:11, a defensive breakdown that saw rookie defenseman Ryan Murphy undressed by Vincent Lecavalier and left Pouliot unchecked at the side of the net. The Canes came back under a minute later, though, as Drayson Bowman finally converted his first of the season on a perfect one-timer from Riley Nash along the near-side boards.

However, Richard Panik put the Lightning back up by two at 7:37 when Ellis couldn't control a rebound and the puck took a fortuitous bounce to Panik, who had circled the back of the net and was in the right place to deposit the puck in the vacated net for his first career goal. Eighteen seconds later, although on the other side of a television timeout, the Lightning went up 4-1 on Tom Pyatt's fourth of the season, a great behind-the-back feed from Alexander Killorn that was partially stopped by Ellis but snuck between his pads and into the net.

The teams traded goals late in the game, with Chad LaRose scoring his second at 16:11 and Stamkos restoring the three-goal lead just over a minute later at the tail end of a power play.

In the locker room after the game, predictably, the mood was sour, with plenty of long faces and frustrated packing of gear for the flight to Long Island.

Kirk Muller was short on words following the game, and his displeasure with the effort was evident.

"We got outworked, and they outcompeted us," he said. "It’s not acceptable, in a big game in your own rink. They wanted it more."

"That’s not our best. We can’t accept that. Yes, we have injuries and guys playing out of position, but there’s no excuses."

Game Notes:

  • Ryan Murphy had the most ice time of any player on either team, logging 25:27 but recording a -3 on the night. Murphy's shift length stood out, an average of 0:56 per shift and an indication that the coaching staff likely will work with him on shortening his shifts.
  • The Canes have allowed four or more goals to Tampa Bay in 11 of their last 15 meetings, and are 2-7-2 in those games.
  • With an assist on LaRose's third-period goal, Bobby Sanguinetti tallied the first point of his NHL career. Nash's assist on Bowman's goal was his first point of the season.
  • The Lightning improved to 8-0 this season when leading after the first period, and has only lost one game when they scored the first goal of the night.
  • The Canes now head to Long Island to face the Islanders tomorrow night. They will play in Washington Tuesday before returning home to face Pittsburgh in Brandon Sutter's homecoming on Thursday night.
  • Click for postgame audio from Dan Ellis, Drayson Bowman, Jay Harrison and Kirk Muller. Video is available on the CC front page.
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