WINNIPEG – The Tampa Bay Lightning needed a just a small slip-up to sneak back into their game against the Winnipeg Jets.
Though Winnipeg certainly obliged, the Lightning failed to punish the Jets for their act of charity and it spelled a 5-2 Jets win before 15,004 on Monday night at the MTS Centre. The victory broke a five-game winless skid for the Jets and a 12-game Lightning winning streak against the Winnipeg franchise that dated back to Oct. 3, 2009.
Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Mark Flood, Andrew Ladd and Tim Stapleton all supplied goals for the struggling Jets (6-9-3) in front of a 30-save performance from Ondrej Pavelec. Tampa Bay (8-7-2) goals from Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos beat Pavelec, whose Tampa Bay counterpart, Dwayne Roloson, exited after allowing four goals on 22 Winnipeg shots.
"I thought tonight probably was one of our better team games that I've seen us play," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "I thought we were excellent all the way from the goalie on out. To me, this is our 'A' game. Now we know what our 'A' game is. So that's now where the bar sits, and now we say, 'Okay, now we know what to reach for.'"
Byfgulien, Kane, Stapleton and Stamkos all finished with 1-1-2 performances, and Stamkos now has 10 tallies in his last 11 outings.
"It was one of our most complete games start to finish," Ladd said. "It was big just to have a complete game, just to feel confident we could do it."
Certainly the Jets stayed true to form in handing the Lightning had six prime opportunities through 40 minutes. Winnipeg entered the game having surrendered a League-high 81 power plays to opponents this season, and had killed just 22 of 29 opposing power plays during the 0-3-2 skid that they owned entering the game.
Tampa Bay, second on the power play at home and 22nd on the road, struggled in going scoreless on six chances and held a 30-minute players-only meeting afterward.
"It's a recurring theme for us," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "It's nothing new for us. We have to take care of it."
Twice in the second period the Lightning had opportunities to punish Winnipeg and failed. Down 2-0 to start the second period, the Lightning could not capitalize on four-minute power play. After Zach Bogosian's double-minor at 1:51, Tampa Bay registered four shots on the extended man-advantage. But Pavelec kicked out poked aside Vincent Lecavalier's in-close chance and then steered aside a booming left-side shot from Stamkos, whose 11 goals lead Tampa Bay.
"Special teams are big," St. Louis said, "and we just didn't get it done on the power play. It cost us maybe a comeback. I'm not going to predict a comeback if we [had] score[d] on the power play, but we're inching closer."
Then the Lightning close the middle period up two skaters for 1:17 needing to begin clawing away at a 4-1 Jets lead and could not beat Pavelec. But Pavelec closed the period with his night's finest work after consecutive penalties to Johnny Oduya and Alexander Burmistrov. What Winnipeg fans perceived to be a dive from Stamkos earned him resounding boos from the again-rowdy crowd for the rest of the night. During the 5-on-3, Stamkos hit a post, and excellent chances from Lecavalier, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Teddy Purcell all failed to beat Pavelec.
"We didn't capitalize on our chances, and they did," Boucher said. "That was the moment of the game that we could come back."
The Lightning have proven to be a dangerous third-period team, but Winnipeg held the visitors to just five shots in the final period and the Jets' fifth goal stalled any chance of a Tampa Bay come back.
"We always believe we can come back, even in the third period, but tonight the fourth and fifth goal hitting our own guys' skates, that was tough to take, especially missing open nets."
Both clubs entered play having made substantial changes to their lineups since Saturday. Tampa Bay regained the services of defenseman Victor Hedman after an upper-body injury had cost him three games. Boucher elected to dress seven defensemen after Saturday night's 3-0 loss at St. Louis left him irritated. Boucher elected not to skate the Lightning on Sunday after the team's arrival in Winnipeg and instead leave his players to ruminate on the effort against the Blues.
Noel shuffled three of his forwards lines after the Columbus game, most notably his Ladd-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler top line that had put up just six goals over the club's first 17 games. The Jets also recalled veteran left wing Jason Jaffray from St. John's of the American Hockey League on Sunday morning and slotted him into his group of forwards in place of Kenndal McArdle. Arturs Kulda also made his debut on the Winnipeg in seeing his first NHL competition since a two-game stint last February and is the 10th defenseman to dress for the Jets this season.
Winnipeg built a 2-0 first-period lead against a Lightning team that has struggled badly in the first period of road games this season. Twenty-one of the 55 goals scored by Lightning opponents this season have been in the opening 20 minutes.
Byfuglien outmuscled two Tampa Bay players along the right boards just inside the Lightning blue line before threading a pass from his knees to Kane, who snapped a rising shot that fooled Roloson.
Winnipeg's second goal was a reverse image of the night's opening goal. Kane won a puck battle along the left boards and pushed a pass out to a wide-open Byfuglien at the right point. Byfuglien hesitated before hammering a hard shot that climbed on Roloson, who also was tangled up with teammate Pavel Kubina, for his second tally in his past four games.
A Winnipeg power play that has struggled badly since a 2-for-5 performance at Philadelphia on Oct. 27, used the man-advantage to put the Lightning in a three-goal hole. Flood ripped a shot from high between the circles that trickled through Roloson's pads at 7:49
St. Louis responded 2:58 late, but the Jets answered the reply 1:27 later and restored their three-goal lead when Ladd’s goal earned the 42-year-old goaltender his second hook of the season. Roloson exited a 5-1 road loss to the New York Islanders on Oct. 13 after being relieved just twice in a 2010-11 regular season split between the Islanders and Lightning.
"The key tonight," Ladd said, "was we worked to get those pucks in dirty areas, we got to the front of the net and made it hard on their goalie."
Stapleton and Stamkos exchanged third-period goals. Garon mopped up and stopped 16 of the 17 shots he faced.