TAMPA, Fla. - The Tampa Bay Lightning hope Brad Richards is heading for a strong finish.
Richards had a goal and two assists, leading the Lightning past the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 on Thursday night. The centre has 16 goals and 29 assists, but is a minus 26 this season, worst in the NHL. "He was great," Tampa Bay defenceman Shane O'Brien said. "It's no secret he's got tons of talent, and when he competes like that, he's one of the best in the league."
Richards gave the Lightning a 4-2 lead on his goal from the right circle at 8:34 of the third as Tampa Bay won for just the sixth time in the past 17 games. Alexander Edler's power-play goal got the Canucks within 4-3 with 24.1 seconds left.
"I think the game was dictated by the physical play," Richards said. "I think they really wanted to get under our skin. We had to answer. I think we not only answered physically, but we answered by coming back in the game twice and getting a two-goal lead."
There were eight fighting majors in the game.
Tampa Bay also got goals from Vinny Prospal, Chris Gratton and Vincent Lecavalier. Martin St. Louis had three assists.
Luc Bourdon and Taylor Pyatt also scored for Vancouver, which has lost eight of 10. Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo rejoined the team after spending time with his pregnant wife and made 23 saves.
"It seems like we're not that far away," Canucks left wing Alex Burrows said. "It's a fine line between a win and a loss. We've got to make sure that we bounce back. We just have to keep competing and working hard."
Vancouver's injury-depleted defence lost another player as Sami Salo sat out with a groin injury. He was hurt in Tuesday's game against Dallas. Lukas Krajicek (shoulder), Willie Mitchell (back) and Kevin Bieksa (lacerated calf) are also sidelined.
"We're not going to use excuses," Luongo said. "We've had injuries before and we've had guys step up. We've got to play hard every night. I'm going to control what I can control and not be worried about anything else."
Bourdon made it 1-0 from the top of the left circle on the Canucks' first shot at 2:41 of the first. Prospal tied it at 1 with a power-play goal at 7:56.
Vancouver went up 2-1 on Pyatt's goal from the low slot with 3:36 left in the first. The Canucks, who went 13 minutes without a shot after Bourdon's goal, were outshot 10-7 during the first.
Tampa Bay pulled even at 2 early in the second on Gratton's goal at 3:12. Less than a minute later, Luongo stopped Lecavalier's shot during a breakaway.
Lecavalier gave Tampa Bay its first lead at 3-2 from the low right circle off a pass from St. Louis with 3:21 remaining in the second. He has 31 goals this season.
Lightning rookie Karri Ramo had 23 saves.
"It didn't bother us when they scored a couple goals in the first," Ramo said. "We bounced back right away. The second period, I think was the best while I've been here. The overall game was pretty good. I think it was a team effort."
Notes: Chicago, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Ottawa were among the teams with scouts at the game. Should the Lightning, last in the Eastern Conference, decide to be sellers before the trade deadline, D Dan Boyle and Prospal could be dealt. Dallas co-general manager Brett Hull was at two consecutive Lightning home games before the all-star break. ... Lecavalier also had a first-period fight with Burrows, who had two assists. ... This was the first time the Canucks have played in Tampa since Nov. 29, 2002. ... The Lightning are 2-14-1 when trailing after the first period.