TAMPA — Depleted but not defeated.
That’s been part of the rallying cry for a Lightning team missing its top goal-scorer and top defenseman, along with a handful of other injuries. Despite the injuries, however, Tampa Bay continues to pick up points and stay afloat in the standings.
The Lightning snapped a two-game winless stretch, but remained unbeaten in regulation for the fourth consecutive game (2-0-2) after a 2-1 shootout victory against Detroit on Thursday in front of an announced sellout crowd of 19,204 at The Forum.
Marty St. Louis had the only goal in the shootout, coming in the sixth round, while Ben Bishop stopped all six shooters he faced in the skills competition, along with 28 during regulation and overtime play for his 16th victory, tied for second in the league.
Tampa Bay started the season 6-0 in overtime/shootouts but had lost the previous three, while Detroit lost its ninth consecutive overtime/shootout decision. The Lightning beat Detroit in Tampa for the first time since Jan. 7, 2003, and have defeated the Red Wings twice in a season for the first time in franchise history.
Rookie Nikita Kucherov scored for the second consecutive game for Tampa Bay, which moved ahead of Detroit into third place in the Atlantic Division standings.
“That big silver cup, you can’t win if you don’t get to the tournament, and our goal is to get there, but you have to keep accumulating points, you have to snuff out losing streaks, you can’t let them mount,’’ Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Obviously, you need to mix in a few more wins than losses, and yes we are depleted, and other teams are depleted as well ... for us, we lost everybody (to injury) all at once, and that’s been tough. But players are playing and growing, they are playing in situations they normally wouldn’t, and not only are they surviving, they are excelling and getting better at it.’’
Coming off a tough loss Tuesday in Washington, allowing five goals and losing three leads before eventually falling in a shootout, Tampa Bay rebounded with a strong defensive effort and some key penalty kills, including one with 3:28 to play in the third period. Bishop, who was upset with himself after the shootout on Tuesday, was also back on track, making some game-saving stops after Detroit took the lead on a follow-up rebound shot by defenseman Kyle Quincey 15:04 into the first period.
“Tonight the penalty kill stepped up after a tough game in Washington, and it was a big win,’’ said Bishop, who improved to 4-1 in shootouts this season and has allowed two or fewer goals in six of his past seven starts.
Bishop’s in-close save on Daniel Alfredsson late in the second period kept Tampa Bay down by only a goal, which allowed Kucherov to collect a loose puck in the high slot after J.T. Brown won a battle along the boards, spinning around and firing a wrist shot over the pad and under the glove of Jonas Gustavsson with 43.7 seconds left in the second period.
“I was just in the middle of the offensive zone and got the puck, and shot it right away,’’ Kucherov said. “Coach has said he wants me to shoot the puck ... I was looking at the goalie and saw the spot ... and I don’t know, I just shoot the puck.’’
Tampa Bay’s struggling power play had chances to pick up a second goal after the game was tied, but a chance with 6:39 failed to produce the winner, and another that came with 43 seconds left in the third period and carried into overtime failed to generate a shot on goal.
But with Bishop staying patient in the shootout and denying six Red Wings shooters, and St. Louis (7-for-32 lifetime in shootouts coming into the game) converting in the sixth round, Tampa Bay found another way to gain in the standings.
“I feel like we are playing the score pretty well, and obviously Bish is the backbone of our success, and I feel that we hang in there and we find ways,’’ St. Louis said. “That’s what we have done.’’