TAMPA – They may be slim, but the Tampa Bay Lightning's postseason hopes are still alive.
Steven Stamkos' power-play goal with 5:04 left in regulation gave the Lightning a 3-2 victory against the Ottawa Senators at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Tuesday.
Stamkos finished off a cross-ice pass by Vincent Lecavalier by beating Craig Anderson for his 26th goal of the season, tying him with Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals for the League lead as the Bolts (17-20-2) pulled within six points of the New York Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Ben Bishop, acquired by Tampa Bay from Ottawa at the April 3 trade deadline, made 31 saves to defeat his former team. Ottawa and the New York Islanders have 44 points; the Senators are sixth in the Eastern Conference and the Islanders are seventh because Ottawa has a game in hand.
"That was a great feeling," Bishop said. "It was nice that it was against my old team. I wanted to get the two points for the team. It's not about me versus them at all."
Ottawa tied the game 21 seconds into the final period on an unusual power-play goal. As the puck softly floated toward the Lightning net, Tampa Bay defenseman Matt Carle reached up with his stick and accidentally tipped it over Bishop's waiting glove. Guillaume Latendresse took advantage of the gift lying at his feet to score his sixth goal of the season.
But ultimately, the Senators gave the Lightning one too many power plays. With Sergei Gonchar in the box for hooking, Martin St. Louis got the puck to Lecavalier, whose cross-ice pass found Stamkos for the game-winner.
"We felt that was something we could expose," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "We tried it a couple of times earlier where we were early on the pass or late on the pass. You have two big-time players making that play. It was sweet."
Anderson finished with 21 saves for the Senators, who have three games remaining on a seven-game road trip.
The Lightning trailed 1-0 after one period but needed less than five minutes of the second to take the lead.
Pierre-Cedric Labrie scored his first NHL goal in his 26th career game at 2:35 when he sent a rebound from just outside the crease into the Ottawa net while Anderson was screened by Nate Thompson. Labrie was playing in his first game after missing five with a lower-body injury. B.J. Crombeen also assisted.
"It's good to take the monkey off my back," Labrie said. "When you go to the net, good things happen. That was a bouncy puck and I just put it on net. You never know … someday I'll have a laser from there and they will save it. This one was a bumpy puck that just went in and I'm pretty happy about it."
Less than two minutes later, with Ottawa's Kyle Turris and Peter Regin both in the penalty box, Lecavalier converted the 5-on-3 opportunity when he buried a rebound of Teddy Purcell's hard shot from the just above the crease to give the Lightning the lead. Lecavalier's goal was his ninth of the season and was also assisted by St. Louis, who picked up his 900th NHL point.
Ottawa was called for 18 minutes of infractions during the game, which was a sore spot for Senators coach Paul MacLean. The Sens finished 1-for-4 on the power play, while Tampa Bay was 2-for-7.
"The penalties are the penalties," MacLean said. "They were penalties. This time of year, you have to take hits to make plays and you have to expect that you're going to get hit and you can't just retaliate and take penalties. That puts your team in a bad spot. A number of the penalties we took tonight we didn't have to. I don't think we conducted ourselves with enough discipline to stay away from the penalty trouble."
Ottawa took the lead at 14:29 of the opening period when a shot by Turris bounded off Bishop and into the air. Daniel Alfredsson, alone in the crease, waited patiently for the puck to fall below the crossbar before he legally batted it into the empty net for his ninth of the season.
The loss was the fifth straight for Ottawa, though MacLean noted that it seemed worse than that.
"There is nothing real positive about this," MacLean said. "It seems like we haven't won a game for ever. It's getting hard; the League is hard, and winning is hard to do. We obviously haven't played hard enough to do more than produce what we call good opportunities."
Cooper, by contrast, saw lots of positives, but he wasn't fooling himself about the Lightning's slim playoff hopes.
"I know the odds are against us," Cooper said. "You tell them not to look at the standings, but obviously they know what is going on. They have every reason to sit here and say, 'This isn't going to work, so I don't have to lay out to block that shot,' or 'I don't have to dig to get that puck out,' or 'I don't have to go to the net,' but they're not doing that. This is a great foundation to build on."
Ryan Malone returned to the lineup for Tampa Bay after missing nine games with a shoulder injury. Malone had 15:43 of ice time, one shot on goal and two blocked shots.