TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Lightning arrived home on Dec. 27 to open a three-game homestand with a sense of concern. They had gone 2-3-1 in their previous six games and were dealing with a compilation of nagging injuries to some key players.
Saturday night, they prepared to head out on the road again, having swept all three games at home while pulling their record back to .500 for the season.
It was the NHL's leading goal scorer, Steven Stamkos, who set the pace as he collected his fifth career hat trick and second of the season to lead the Lightning to a 5-2 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Martin St. Louis collected three assists for the Lightning to reach 500 for his career.
"I feel better because the results are there," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "But the reality is that we were playing better and better and it was just a matter of getting some goals and playing some home games."
Prior to this homestand, Tampa Bay (17-17-3) had played 21 games on the road and only 12 at home.
"I kept on saying, 'Circumstances were really tough for us to manage with injuries and all that traveling,'" Boucher said. "I'll be honest … I was burnt-out. The players and the staff felt the same way from all that travel. It wears you out."
Tampa Bay got two goals within 22 seconds to begin the third period as Stamkos got his 26th goal of the season on a power play just 43 seconds in when he unloaded one of his patented blasts from the left faceoff circle and overpowered Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward. The hat trick for Stamkos gave him 6 goals in his last three games.
"That was icing on the cake," Stamkos said. "It was nice to get the hat trick, especially in a big game like this."
Teddy Purcell scored his seventh of the season at 1:05. Steve Downie completed the scoring as he glided unmolested into the slot and fired a shot past Ward at 6:51.
Each of the Lightning third-period goals were assisted by Ryan Malone, while Downie finished with two assists to go along with his goal and St. Louis assisted on each of Stamkos' three tallies. St. Louis has appeared in five games since returning from facial injuries incurred when a puck hit him in the face during the morning skate on Dec. 8. He has gotten points in each game and has one goal and 7 assists during that stretch.
"It's an honor to play this game," St. Louis said of reaching 500 assists. "When you do things like that, I think you come into this League and you think about getting benchmarks."
Carolina picked up two power play goals on two shots early in the game to break out of a 2-24 extra man slump. Justin Faulk scored his second of the season in the first period and Jay Harrison, his third goal of the season, in period two.
"I think going into the third, things were going pretty well for us at 2-2," Faulk said. "Once they got that third goal, our play broke down."
Carolina (13-21-6) has dropped two of its last three games. Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller saw his record as drop to 5-8-2 since taking over the team on Nov. 28.
"The last few games on the road, we're in these tight games," Muller said. "We've got to learn that on the road is going to be a battle. We have to be ready to play three periods. Tampa Bay was ready to play in the third and we weren't, and they outplayed us."
Mathieu Garon, starting his 11th consecutive game for the Lightning, stopped 24 of 26 shots, while Ward allowed five goals on 32 shots.
While Tampa Bay may have found some stability at home, the question of whether it can continue the momentum on the road remains. The Lightning are 6-12-3 on the road and are facing four of their next six away from home.
"We need to take this game on the road feeling good about ourselves," St. Louis said. "It was big."