TAMPA — Like most everything else this season, the Lightning didn't make Tuesday's 6-2 win over Detroit easy on itself.
But in one of its biggest regular-season games in years, Tampa Bay found a way in front of a sold-out crowd at Amalie Arena, moving into first place in the Atlantic Division and giving it a six-point cushion over the Red Wings, who are now sitting tied for eighth in the Eastern Conference with Philadelphia.
This one got dicey late in the second period, when the Red Wings cut a three-goal deficit to one. But unlike a third-period collapse Thursday in Dallas, the Lightning scored a clutch five-on-three power-play goal before adding two more in the third.
"Sometimes when we (squandered a lead), guys were getting mad," wing Erik Condra said. "This time nobody got mad. Nobody said anything. We looked at each other and said, 'We need to play better.' And that's what we did."
Said defenseman Victor Hedman: "We didn't panic."
The Lightning (42-26-5) hopes this kickstarts a critical six-game homestand on its playoff push, with matchups against two playoff contenders, the Islanders on Friday and the Panthers on Saturday. Tampa Bay got an unexpected boost from Condra, who had two goals and a game-high five shots, his first points since Dec. 26 (just eight overall).
"I thought he could have had five (goals)," coach Jon Cooper said. "He was all over the place."
The Lightning took a 3-0 lead early in the second on Steven Stamkos' 34th goal of the season, chasing goaltender Jimmy Howard. But after the Red Wings scored back-to-back goals to pull within 3-2 with 4:35 left in the second, Tampa Bay regained the momentum with Nikita Kucherov's power-play goal.
The Lightning power play, 27th in the league, is still in a 2-for-28 stretch, but few tallies have been as timely as Kucherov's, tapping in a cross-crease feed by Tyler Johnson.
"We put pressure on ourselves to make that one count," Hedman said. "You have to bury those, especially in a tight game like that."
The Lightning, which outshot Detroit 34-25, had more than four goals for the first time since Feb. 18 and scored in the first two minutes of each period. Those were devastating blows to the Red Wings.
"We never gave up the lead, but we never really let them get that close," Cooper said. "And when they made it a one-goal lead we extended it pretty (quickly)."
Almost as important is Hedman said the team got back to a full 60-minute compete level, displaying the combo of playing fast on offensive and steady on defense. "If we keep that going," Condra said, "we're going to be a scary team to play against."
Goalie Ben Bishop was solid again with 23 saves. And the Lightning, having learned the hard way from its deflating loss in Dallas, bent but didn't break.
"We weren't too worried about it," Johnson said of having the lead cut to 3-2. "Obviously we were frustrated with it. But we knew we had to play better. It was up to us to respond and we did that."
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Condra 4 (Palat, Boyle), 1:47. 2, Tampa Bay, Namestnikov 13 (Brown), 9:55. Penalties—Quincey, Det (roughing), 7:17; Paquette, TB (roughing), 7:17; Glendening, Det (roughing), 15:34.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 34 (Kucherov, Hedman), :33. 4, Detroit, Abdelkader 18 (Zetterberg, Kronwall), 8:08 (pp). 5, Detroit, Helm 12 (Datsyuk, Mantha), 15:25. 6, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 28 (Johnson, Stamkos), 17:42 (pp). Penalties—Smith, Det, major (fighting), 2:21; Brown, TB, major (fighting), 2:21; Killorn, TB (roughing), 6:34; Green, Det (tripping), 16:41; Abdelkader, Det (cross-checking), 16:53; Kronwall, Det (slashing), 18:47.
Third Period—7, Tampa Bay, Palat 14 (Johnson, Hedman), 1:03. 8, Tampa Bay, Condra 5 (Boyle), 16:56. Penalties—Nyquist, Det (slashing), 5:21; Namestnikov, TB (slashing), 5:21. Shots on Goal—Detroit 7-9-9—25. Tampa Bay 15-12-7—34. Power-play opportunities—Detroit 1 of 1; Tampa Bay 1 of 4. Goalies—Detroit, Howard 10-11-5 (16 shots-13 saves), Mrazek (0:33 second, 18-15). Tampa Bay, Bishop 31-19-4 (25-23). A—19,092 (19,092). T—2:29. Referees—Francis Charron, Justin St. Pierre. Linesmen—Brad Kovachik, Pierre Racicot.