RALEIGH, N.C. — Having the top two scorers in the NHL has put much of the spotlight on the Lightning’s offensive prowess, but Tuesday’s 5-1 win over the Hurricanes showed how far Tampa Bay’s defense has come.
The Lightning (8-1-1) has its most points ever in the standings after 10 games — one more than the 16 it had in 2002-03 — and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has allowed two goals in his past three games.
Tampa Bay survived a tense third period with a 2-1 lead, pulling away only when Carolina (3-3-1) pulled its goalie early and Vladislav Namestnikov scored an empty-net goal with 2:33 remaining. Ryan Callahan added a second power-play goal, his first of the season, with 1:20 left, and Nikita Kucherov added a goal with four seconds left, his 11th of the season.
"We had a really disappointing third period," coach Jon Cooper said. "We had that game in complete control after two, we weren’t really giving them much. You have a two-goal lead and we came out and gave it to our goaltender and said, ‘You win this one for us.’?"
Tampa Bay opened the season allowing 15 goals in the first four games, but that defense has clamped down, allowing 10 in the past six. The Lightning penalty-kill unit went 4-for-4 as well.
The Lightning got a second-period goal from red-hot rookie Mikhail Sergachev, who has four in his past three games. His score came on an assist by Steven Stamkos, who has a point in all 10 Lightning games, one short of the team record to start a season set by Marty St. Louis in 2009.
Vasilevskiy, who had 30 saves, lost the shutout early in the third. He survived a slew of shots that left him sprawling, but Carolina reset the puck to Jaccob Slavin, who scored his second goal of the season with 16:32 left.
"It was pretty much a fire drill after that," Cooper said. "We played with fire a little bit tonight. We got away with it, but we can’t continue to have third periods like that."
Carolina dominated much of the third, outshooting the Lightning 8-2 early in the period but unable to tie the score. Vasilevskiy is now 8-1 on the season, having played all but one game.
Kucherov, who came in tied for the NHL lead in goals with 10, nearly failed to score a point for the first time this season, but his goal with four seconds left extended his streak to match Stamkos’.
Tampa Bay came in not only 7-1-1 on the season but 7-1-1 in its past nine games in Raleigh, including a 1-0 overtime loss last year. Having two days off did nothing to slow the Lightning, which came in leading the NHL in points and tied for the lead in goal differential (plus-12).
Carolina controlled much of the opening period, but the Lightning killed off two power plays then got its first with 2:30 left on a holding call. With five seconds left in the power play and 35 seconds left in the period, Tampa Bay got on the scoreboard as Tyler Johnson poked in a rebound on an Ondrej Palat shot, his fourth goal of the season.
The Lightning now comes home for two straight.