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Lightning defeat Hurricanes in Vasilevskiy's return

by Kurt Dusterberg /

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The self-doubt and stick-clutching are finally over for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

After scoring two goals during a four-game losing streak, nine players got on the score sheet in Tampa Bay's 4-3 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.

The Lightning (6-5-2) were coming off a 3-1 home loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday, one that didn't sit well with anyone.

"It didn't feel like a typical back-to-back because of the mood we were in as a team, which was not a good one after the way we've played the last couple games," said Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos, who scored a power-play goal. "We were down one, but we never panicked. That's the group that we're all familiar with."

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made 32 saves in his first game of the season. He missed the first month after surgery to remove a blood clot.

"Not perfect, but not bad," Vasilevskiy said of his performance. "I did a good job."

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper changed his line combinations after the first period, trying to jump-start the Lightning after falling behind 1-0 on an Eric Staal power-play goal at 15:07 of the first period.

"It was almost like it popped a balloon," Cooper said. "We ended up getting four, but we had a few more chances to get some more. I liked the pace of the play as the game went on."

After the first period, the Lightning might have been wondering if their scoring drought would continue on their four-game trip. On the power play, Hurricanes forward Kris Versteeg won a battle behind the net and moved the puck to Staal, who backhanded his fourth goal past Vasilevskiy from the left post.

But Tampa Bay's line-juggling paid immediate dividends when Ryan Callahan tied the game 38 seconds into the second period. Ondrej Palat stripped the puck from John-Michael Liles before making a pass to Callahan's backhand at the top of the crease to beat Carolina goalie Cam Ward.

"We really found our legs in the second and third," Cooper said. "You could feel our swag coming back during the game. It was good to see because we had lost that a little bit in the past week and a half."

The Lightning took a 2-1 lead with six seconds left in the second on the man-advantage when Stamkos scored his sixth goal on a one-timer from inside the blue line after crisp passes from Anton Stralman and Nikita Kucherov. The power-play opportunity came after Hurricanes rookie defenseman Noah Hanifin was called for high sticking against Stamkos.

"We knew eventually they were going to go in," Stamkos said. "We didn't do it by cheating, we did it by working hard. We mixed some things up, and some things clicked. Sometimes, it's just a fresh start that you need."

J.T. Brown extended the Lightning lead to 3-1 on a goal at 4:07 of the third period. After Valtteri Filppula chipped the puck ahead in the neutral zone, Brown streaked down the left wing past two defenders and lifted a backhand shot inside the far post.

"I had the guy off my back shoulder and I was just trying to make a speed play, get it to the net," Brown said. "I didn't have the lane to the net, so I figured I would get the shot off."

Brown's goal added an interesting twist to his family's sports history. Next door to PNC Arena is Carter-Finley Stadium, where his father, Ted Brown, was an All-American running back at North Carolina State in the 1970s before playing eight seasons in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings.

"I don't think about it more than scoring any other goal," Brown said. "They're all good for me. It's nice, being from around the area, but at the end of the day, I will take it from anywhere in any city."

Adding to Tampa Bay's relief, Tyler Johnson scored his first goal of the season at 9:16, snapping a shot past Ward from below the right circle for a 4-1 lead. Johnson scored 29 goals last season.

"It was awesome," Palat said. "I think everyone was happy for him. I would be lying if I said it didn't bother him. But he was working hard, and it was a good thing he scored tonight."

Carolina made the final score close in the final minutes.

Versteeg scored with 4:35 remaining after taking a long pass from Victor Rask and scoring on a breakaway to make it 4-2. Versteeg had three points, as did Rask, who assisted on all three Hurricanes goals.

Then with Ward pulled and the extra attacker on for Carolina, Jordan Staal scored his first of the season on a slap shot with one second remaining to close out the scoring.

"I think we were too loose with the puck," Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said. "We turned it over too many times, and it led to goals against, led to penalties, which led to momentum for them. I would probably say our decision-making wasn't good enough."

The loss ended a three-game winning streak for the Hurricanes (5-7-0).

"There's going to be some great video coming out of this game, some great teachable moments for sure," Peters said. "We made it hard on ourselves because of the decisions we made."

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