NEWARK, N.J. — For Peter Budaj, Tuesday’s season debut had a shaky start.
This was a tough position for Budaj, 35, playing in his first game in about three weeks. And he looked rusty early on, Budaj allowing an innocent-looking wrist shot squeak through his legs. Then Budaj whiffed on a loose puck in the crease, leading to another.
"Obviously didn’t start the best," Budaj said.
But Budaj bounced back in a big way, making some huge saves later in the game to ensure the Lightning earned a point in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Devils at the Prudential Center.
The Lightning (5-1-1) snapped its five-game winning streak, but collected three of four points on a back-to-back.
"To have that kind of guy on our team that doesn’t play for so long and to be able to play at such a high level, that’s huge for us," Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov said.
The Lightning had its share of chances, including power plays in the final two minutes of regulation and the last 47 seconds of overtime. But it couldn’t cash in, and the lone shootout goal by Kyle Palmieri was the difference.
"We just have to get in a rhythm of playing more consistent, like we did in the third," captain Steven Stamkos said. "But we got three of four points on a tough back to back where you get in at two in the morning and have a team waiting for you. We had a chance to win, we didn’t. But you take the point."
Budaj believes the Lightning scored enough to get two points. There was Kucherov and his historically-hot streak, his tying goal Tuesday making him just the sixth player in the modern era (1943-1944) to score in each of the team’s first seven games. The others include Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Mike Bossy —you might have heard of them.
The power play also scored for the seventh straight game, Ondrej Palat cashing in. Rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev had one of his better games, including two assists. Stamkos tallied his second goal of the season, set up beautifully on a ferocious forecheck by Yanni Gourde.
Shortly after Stamkos’ go-ahead goal with three minutes to go in the second, Budaj made a sprawling glove save on No. 1 pick Nico Hischier, who was all alone in front.
"Just swung my arm up and it hit me," Budaj said. "Thank God it didn’t go in."
Budaj, acquired in the Ben Bishop trade to the Kings last February, was impressive down the stretch with the Lightning, going 3-1 with a 2.80 goals-against average. He signed a two-year, $2.05 million deal in the summer. Budaj may have to go a long time between starts, especially with No. 1 Andrei Vasilevskiy playing so well in starting the first six games.
Coach Jon Cooper said any rust Budaj felt was the gamble he made in waiting so long to start him. But Cooper, and the rest of the Lightning, were encouraged if this is the kind of resilience Budaj shows this season.
"He gave us a chance to get a point," Stamkos said. "And that’s what you want from your goaltender."
First Period—1, New Jersey, Stafford 2 (Butcher, Hischier), 2:45. 2, Tampa Bay, Namestnikov 3 (Kucherov, Stamkos), 7:33. 3, Tampa Bay, Palat 3 (Johnson, Sergachev), 12:21 (pp). 4, New Jersey, Palmieri 2 (Hall, Henrique), 16:19 (pp). 5, New Jersey, Gibbons 3 (Santini, Wood), 19:08.
Second Period—6, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 8 (Stamkos, Sergachev), 14:02. 7, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 2 (Gourde), 17:23.
Third Period—8, New Jersey, Stafford 3 (Hischier, Severson), 15:54 (pp).
Shootout—Tampa Bay 0 (Point NG, Kucherov NG, Callahan NG), New Jersey 1 (Stafford NG, Hall NG, Palmieri G).
Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 11-11-13-2—37. New Jersey 15-9-8-2—34.
Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 5; New Jersey 2 of 4.
Goalies—Tampa Bay, Budaj 0-0-1 (34 shots-30 saves). New Jersey, Schneider 4-1-0 (37-33).
A—13,176 (16,514). T—2:44. Referees—Ghislain Hebert, Dan O’Halloran. Linesmen—Derek Amell, Ryan Galloway.