TAMPA — As Mike Smith kicked the racked hockey sticks when he came off the ice during Saturday's morning skate, he thought the worst.
The Lightning goaltender had taken teammate Janne Niskala's slap shot off the thumb and middle finger of his right hand. Were the fingers broken? Would he miss his start against the Senators?
"They were throbbing pretty good," Smith said. They were bloody, too, but not hurt enough to derail another outstanding effort in a 3-2 shootout victory at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Smith made 29 saves, including a diving glove stop on Wade Phillips on a two-on-one with 2:04 left in overtime.
"Smitty," right wing Marty St. Louis said, "stood on his head."
And Tampa Bay (4-3-3) won its third straight and fourth in five, and with 11 points is just one behind the first-place Hurricanes in the Southeast.
In a sense, the Lightning stole two points. It never really had its A game and was 0-for-4 on the power play, including a 1:46 five-on-three. A ferocious Ottawa forecheck didn't make things easier.
"It was a gut-check game because nothing was coming easy," coach Barry Melrose said. "The team that started the season might have folded a couple of times. But this group kept battling, battling, battling, and we got rewarded."
The Lightning never stopped working, outshot the Senators 34-31 and erased two one-goal deficits. Vinny Lecavalier's sixth goal tied the score 1-1 with 5:51 left in the second period. Matt Carle's first tied it 2-2 with 6:21 left in the third after great work by Vinny Prospal in the Senators zone got Carle the puck.
Then there was Evgeny Artyukhin. The big Russian's goal in the eighth round broke a 2-2 tie in a shootout that finally ended when Ottawa's Dean McAmmond shot wide.
Artyukhin had perhaps his best NHL game with a game-high eight shots and six hits. He also made his brother, Sergei, very happy. In a phone call from Moscow before the game, Artyukhin said, Sergei, who turned 32 Saturday, told him, "The best present for me is for you to score."
The best present for the Lightning this season has been Smith.
Yeah, he got some help, such as when Daniel Alfredsson's backhander 15 seconds into the game went wide with Smith down and the net open.
More to the point, though, was the sprawling glove save he made on McAmmond 6:34 into the first, the save on Jason Spezza's breakaway 5:39 into the second and the save on Phillips.
"We had lots of chances," Spezza said. "Their goalie made some phenomenal saves."
"Even keel out there," said Smith, who has a .941 save percentage. "Make saves when I need to, and right now it seems to be going pretty good."
Except for the way he keeps getting beaten up in practice.
Smith took a shot off the left forearm during a workout in Prague last month and still has the bruise. He took a shot off the knee at a practice Wednesday in Toronto.
"He's been hurt, like, five times in practice," Melrose said. "We're at the point we have to keep a standby goaltender."
"I joked with Barry, I have to stick to just playing games," Smith said.
The way he is playing, Melrose might just agree.
|Lightning wins shootout 3-2|
First Period—None. Penalties—None.
Second Period—1, Ottawa, Vermette 2 (Schubert, Foligno), 8:06 (pp). 2, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 6 (Krajicek, Prospal), 14:09. 3, Ottawa, Heatley 7 (Kuba, Vermette), 14:48. Penalties—Prospal, TB (holding), :34; Malik, TB (tripping), 6:11; Neil, Ott (interference), 12:09.
Third Period—4, Tampa Bay, Carle 1 (Prospal, Krajicek), 13:48. Penalties—Vermette, Ott (goalie interference), 1:33; Alfredsson, Ott (hooking), 1:47; Winchester, Ott (tripping), 7:54; Artyukhin, TB (high-sticking), 9:05.
Shootout—Ottawa 2 (Vermette NG, Alfredsson NG, Spezza G, Heatley NG, Ruutu G, Fisher NG, Foligno NG, McAmmond NG), Tampa Bay 3 (Lecavalier NG, Jokinen G, Prospal NG, Stamkos NG, St. Louis G, Recchi NG, Malone NG, Artyukhin G). Shots on Goal—Ottawa 7-10-11-3—31. Tampa Bay 7-15-9-3—34. Power-play opportunities—Ottawa 1 of 3; Tampa Bay 0 of 4. Goalies—Ottawa, Auld 3-2-1 (34 shots-32 saves). Tampa Bay, M.Smith 3-2-2 (31-29). A—16,104 (19,758).
Before his recent scoring spurt, we asked you whether the Lightning should keep Steven Stamkos on its roster or send him back to his junior team for seasoning. Your response:
Keep him here. His ice time and production will improve with experience.
Send him back to juniors, where he'll see more ice time and develop more quickly.
Total: 129 votes