COLUMBUS, Ohio — With a losing streak mounting and the playoff race tightening, the Lightning desperately needed a response Sunday against the Blue Jackets.
"We have no choice," coach Jon Cooper said before the game.
Tampa Bay delivered in a 4-0 win at Nationwide Arena that ended a three-game losing skid. But it was far from easy, and it might have been costly. The Lightning (40-24-5) played the game's second half with nine forwards — it dressed 11 — because of a first-period upper-body injury to Valtteri Filppula and a second-period upper-body injury to Nikita Kucherov, who got sucker punched by Columbus' Dalton Prout.
Though Cooper said he didn't think either injury was long term, Tampa Bay will relish today's off day in Toronto.
"It was a game that was physical, it was hard-nosed," captain Steven Stamkos said. "So we showed a lot of character."
Said wing Ondrej Palat: "It wasn't pretty."
It was also much closer than the score indicated. It was a 1-0 game until midway through the third; then the Lightning scored three goals, two shorthanded, to seal the deal.
Stamkos had two goals, including his third career shorthanded goal, to give him his fifth 30-goal season (31). Goalie Ben Bishop, booed every time he touched the puck, was stellar again with 37 saves in getting his fourth shutout of a Vezina Trophy-caliber season.
"He's one of the best in the league," Stamkos said. "He's proved that this year."
The Lightning played much better than it did during its three-game losing streak, which Cooper called a "momentary gaffe." Tampa Bay racked up 37 shots and got more pucks and bodies to the net. It amassed 12 of the game's first 14 shots. Special teams finished it off, scoring multiple shorthanded goals in a game for the first time since December 2003, its Stanley Cup season.
And when injuries forced the Lightning to play three lines, it played smart. "We said in the locker room, 'We've got to play simple,' " said Palat, who had the other shorthanded goal. "I think we did that."
With the win, the Lightning remained in third place in the Atlantic Division, one point behind first-place Boston, which has won seven of 10. Though Tampa Bay's franchise-record nine-game winning streak was snapped last week and followed by the losing streak, the Lightning has a chance to reset on this four-game trip, with 13 games overall left in the regular season.
"Our momentary gaffe we had of relaxation is gone," Cooper said. "You ride the wave for a long time, and all of a sudden you're off the surfboard the next. That's what we've done here the past week. It's 82 games. This is going to happen. We've had more ups than we've had downs, and we've just got to get back to that consistent level of play that we played for most of the season."
Sunday was a good start.
First—None. Penalties—Hartnell, Clm (tripping), :21; Namestnikov, TB (holding), 16:03; Namestnikov, TB (roughing), 20:00; Dubinsky, Clm (roughing), 20:00.
Second—1, TB, Stamkos 30 (Kucherov), 5:29. Penalties—Kucherov, TB (roughing), 7:38; Foligno, Clm (tripping), 7:38; Prout, Clm, minor-misconduct (roughing), 7:38; Stamkos, TB (interference), 10:07.
Third—2, TB, Namestnikov 12 (T.Johnson), 8:45. 3, TB, Stamkos 31 (Palat), 10:54 (sh). 4, TB, Palat 12 (Stamkos), 14:39 (sh). Penalties—Killorn, TB (hooking), 9:17; Callahan, TB, double minor (high-sticking), 12:56; Bourque, Clm, misconduct, 19:21; Savard, Clm (slashing), 19:21; Calvert, Clm (slashing), 20:00. SOG—TB 15-13-9—37. Clm 5-16-16—37. PPs—TB 0 of 3; Clm 0 of 5. Goalies—TB, Bishop 29-18-4 (37 shots-37 saves). Clm, Bobrovsky 11-15-1 (37-33).