TAMPA — The Lightning are starting to steady the ship.
It’s not back to the proper level, but it’s getting there.
Tampa Bay built up a nice cushion, then survived a late Vancouver rally before holding on for a 4-3 victory.
Ondrej Palat and Steven Stamkos each had a goal and an assist while Valtteri Filppula and Tom Pyatt also scored. Ben Bishop finished with 25 saves for his 32nd victory of the season.
Alex Burrows scored twice for Vancouver and added an assist while Jannik Hansen scored shorthanded. Eddie Lack stopped 26 shots in the loss.
After starting off a six-game homestand 0-1-2 that sent some headed for the panic button, the Lightning closed things out on a three-winning streak and earned points in five of the six games.
“A great homestand, especially after dropping the first one,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “There were (12) points on the table and we get eight of them, and it doesn’t matter how you get there, you just need the points. . . . we’ve gotten points in five straight games when we really need them.’’
Tampa Bay moved past Toronto and Montreal, both of whom were idle on Monday, into second place in the Atlantic Division with 14 games remaining for the Lightning, which will have two games in hand on both teams when Tampa Bay travels to Toronto on Wednesday.
The Lightning will carry some momentum into the three-game road trip after displaying many of the characteristics that made then successful in the first half of the season with a strong puck possession game, solid play in the neutral zone and an attacking mentality.
“It’s a testament to us just sticking with it,’’ defenseman Mike Kostka said. “We went through a little bit of a rut there, and towards the end of it though we didn’t get the points, we were playing well. So we knew that we just had to stick with it, we did so and have strung together some good games for the last few.’’
The Lightning struck first late in the opening period when Ryan Callahan made a diving play to keep the puck alive in the corner, worked the wall to get the puck to Palat who fed a backhand pass over to Stamkos who hammered the puck past Lack from just above the crease at 17:56 for his second goal in six games since returning from a broken leg.
In the second period, the Lightning turned up their game and started to showcase the puck-possession style of play that was a formula for success early in the season. And during 4-on-4 play, Tampa Bay added to its lead as Palat came down on a partial 2-on-1 break and looked to make a pass across to Tyler Johnson. But the puck hit the leg of Vancouver defenseman Ryan Stanton and redirected into the net at 6:54. From that point on, the Lightning were skating circles around the Canucks in the offensive zone, forcing Vancouver to chase the play for periods of time.
Late in the second Tampa Bay built a three-goal lead when Stamkos worked a give-and-go with Filppula, as Stamkos dished a pass down to the left circle for Filppula, who then tried to complete the tic-tac-toe play with a pass toward a cutting Matt Carle. But the puck was once again bounced in the net off of Stanton with 8.1 seconds left in the second period.
“I thought we played a really good game in all three zones tonight,’’ Palat said. “I think we played well today.’’
What worked the first two periods got away from the Lightning somewhat as the Canucks would score three times, twice in a span of 4:32 late in the period including Hansen’s shorthanded goal, to make the ending a bit more close for comfort.
“We still have to fix some things,’’ Stamkos said. “We take the lead into the third and we know, especially teams that are fighting for their playoff lives, that they are going to throw everything at us. We have to be a little smarter, but I thought the way they scored we can correct those. We’re obviously happy with the win.’’