TAMPA -- The more Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman keeps trading players for draft choices, the more the guys who are left keep winning, though each time it's getting tougher and tougher.
Steven Stamkos scored his League-leading 41st and 42nd goals and added an assist as the Lightning helped their playoff chances by holding off the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Tuesday night's win came just hours after Yzerman made his third trade in less than a week, sending forward Steve Downie to Colorado in a three-way deal that brought back Detroit's first-round pick in the NHL Draft in June. The Lightning have won three in a row since Thursday -- with all three wins coming a few hours after Yzerman dealt a player for draft picks.
Emotions ran high prior to the game when Downie came through the locker room to say his goodbyes. A well-like player, Downie shared some deep friendships with several members of the team.
"It was pretty tough because usually you're coming in at 5:30 to get ready for your opponent and you're happy and excitement and everyone's joking around but this was a unique situation that we're not used to every days," forward Teddy Purcell said.
"It was kind of an awkward mood in here, but Marty did a real good job of showing some good leadership before the game," Purcell said.
"Marty's message was, ‘You know what, we're still just six points out. Just because there are some guys leaving, we're not giving up in here. We have to keep fighting and clawing our way back.' We wanted to make sure we came out with a good start. That was the most important thing."
The message got through loud and clear.
Stamkos opened the scoring 28 seconds into the game, just six seconds after Anaheim defenseman Cam Fowler was called for hooking, then made it 2-0 when he scored again at 17:58. It was Stamkos' sixth game with three-or-more points this season.
Purcell assisted on both goals and added one of his own in the second period. The three point night gives him 11 points in his last eight games.
The fast start was no surprise to Anaheim's coach Bruce Boudreau, who was familiar with the Lightning from his previous stint as the coach of the Washington Capitals.
"I've played this team so many times," Boudreau said. "I told the guys that Tampa will come at you hard in the first seven minutes to get that opening goal, and then they'll sit back a bit. And they did come at us really, really hard and got the opening goal."
Saku Koivu got one goal back for the Ducks by beating Mathieu Garon 40 seconds into the middle period. Then Koivu set up Bobby Ryan for his 22nd of the season at 18:38.
In the final period, Anaheim did everything but score, firing 11 shots on the Lightning net to only three by Tampa Bay, but they were unable to beat Garon, who finished with 28 saves while improving to 8-2-2 in his last 12 games. The loss dropped Anaheim to 4-1-2 on its eight-game road trip, which concludes in Carolina on Thursday.
"They made a big push in the third; we knew they'd make a big push," Purcell said. "They've been one of the best teams in the League since the New Year so we knew it was coming."
Anaheim outshot the Lightning 30-16, but Tampa Bay held on to improve to 17-2-6 in one-goal games and climb to within five points of a playoff spot and one game over .500 for the season.
Not that Lightning coach Guy Boucher would notice.
"We don't look at the standings," Boucher said. "We're aware, but the reality is for us it's keep on pushing, keep on playing and finding ways with the new players who have been brought up and new chemistry. We have to find the ways. We take pride in what we did here tonight; this was the best team in the NHL since Jan. 1. We did this under tough circumstances so it's very positive."
The Lightning leave on a three-game road trip, which Boucher said will be very difficult.
"That was a good formula at home the last three games, but now we have to find one on the road," Boucher said. "This will be a real tough road trip. After that, we're coming home and we have 11 games at home and five away. This is the trip that's going to be very critical. Winnipeg seems to beat everyone at home and Pittsburgh, you know how tough that will be and then the next day on the back-to-back, Jersey will be waiting for us. This is a critical trip for us."
Adding to the difficulty will be the Lightning's road record -- 9-17-4.
Hopefully, there will be no more pregame traumas to make things even more difficult for the Lightning.
"It was a tough game for the whole team," Stamkos said. "Downie was another guy that's a big part of our team. For me, personally, he's a great friend and a great teammate. It's tough but once the puck drops you just focus on the game and what you have to do to help your team win. There are still 21 guys here that will go to battle for each other every night. We showed the resilience and character again tonight and we have to keep on winning."
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