RALEIGH, N.C. — As Tampa Bay played its second set of back-to-back games in less than a week, Ben Bishop proved to be the team’s backbone on Sunday.
The Lightning used an opportunistic offense and a career-high 48 saves from Bishop to knock off Carolina 5-3 in front of an announced crowd of 16,760 at PNC Arena, Tampa Bay’s sixth consecutive victory in the Hurricanes’ home venue and seventh in the past trips. The win pulls the Lightning into a tie with Boston atop the Atlantic Division standings as Tampa Bay improved to 6-1-1 in the second half of back-to-back games this season.
Tampa Bay won for the ninth time in the past 11 road games to improve to 15-10-2 away from home, tied for second most road wins in the league.
Bishop was backed by rookie defenseman Mark Barberio, who scored his first and second career goals, and fellow rookie Ondrej Palat, who had a career-high three points with a goal and two assists. Nikita Kucherov and Teddy Purcell also added goals while Tampa Bay survived a night in which they allowed a franchise record 51 shots on goal.
“Clearly we were on our heels from start to finish, we were opportunistic, the guys stayed true to some good habits in what we preach and our goaltender bailed us out,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “Every game is not going to be a Picasso, but ultimately you are going to wake up in the morning and we’ll see we had two more points than we did yesterday and we’ll take it. Things like tonight haven’t happened too often this year, and obviously we feel fortunate to get out of here with two points. . . . but we are not giving them back.’’
In three career starts at PNC Arena against the Hurricanes, Bishop is 3-0 with a 1.00 goals against average and has stopped 124-of-127 he’s faced (.976 save percentage) with two shutouts. In four career starts against Carolina, Bishop is 4-0 with a 1.24 GAA, stopping 149-of-154 shots (.968 save percentage). Sunday’s performance may have been his best showing, facing 17 shots in each period.
“It was one of those games where you get a lot of shots, and sometimes that’s nice, and I felt good all game,’’ Bishop said. “I’m sure (the Hurricanes) were frustrated, but that’s what I’m supposed to do.’’
Carolina came out putting Tampa Bay back on its heels from the opening faceoff and held an 8-1 shot advantage in the opening minutes of the game until the Hurricanes took a penalty to give the Lightning a power play. Barberio was able to cash in, when he noticed Patrick Dwyer vacate the left wing side trying to get a stick from the bench, allowing Barberio to jump unopposed to the front of the net where he tapped-in a behind-the-back pass from Alex Killorn at 6:09 for his first career goal. Just over a minute later, Palat finished off a quick rush started by a Tyler Johnson one-touch pass to the far boards to Marty St. Louis over to Palat coming down the slot for a quick one-timer at 7:32. Kucherov made it 3-0 at 15:07 for a three-goal cushion.
The Hurricanes would keep pushing, even after Purcell’s goal 24 seconds into the second period, and cut the lead to 4-2 on goals by Alex Semin and Eric Staal four minutes apart. After calling a timeout following the second Carolina goal, Tampa Bay answered that with Barberio’s second of the game as he sent a slap shot that ramped off the stick of Andrej Sekera and past Anton Khudobin, who replaced starter Justin Peters in the first period, at 8:12 to regain the three-goal cushion, and Bishop made it stand up.
“I don’t think we played our best game tonight, Carolina was really on top of us as you can see from the shot total, but sometimes you need your goalie to come up big and that’s what Bish did it again tonight,’’ Barberio said. “And it wasn’t just the saves, it was also him coming out and playing the puck as their forecheck was really hard on us, so he was huge tonight.’’