TAMPA — D Andrej Sustr admitted he was a little surprised to find himself all alone near the right post for his goal late in the second period Sunday.
"I don't know. It's really hard to miss a 6-foot-8 guy," Sustr joked.
But when D Jason Garrison's high shot caromed off the boards to the right post, Sustr pounced on the puck and finished, scoring the eventual winner in a 3-1 Lightning victory over the Panthers.
"I was in the right spot at the right time," Sustr said.
You can say that a lot lately about the Lightning blue line, which has been an offensive force. With Sustr's winner Sunday and Anton Stralman's goal in Friday's win against the Penguins, Tampa Bay defensemen have nine goals in the past 14 games after tallying a combined seven in the first 41.
It should come as no surprise that the team is 9-4-1 in that stretch, averaging 3.3 goals per game, tallying five in four of them.
"That's been a big thing from Day 1," coach Jon Cooper said. "If we don't have our (defensemen) involved, we're in trouble scoring. If you look back at when we were really struggling to score, we weren't getting shots from our (defense), we weren't active with our D. When they're involved — they don't have to be on the score sheet all the time, but they will eventually just because of how active they can be — it's not a coincidence the fact when they're scoring, we're scoring, too."
Sustr said teammates were joking with him because he has set a career high with two goals this season. But Cooper said if C Vladislav Namestnikov is the team's most improved player, Sustr is a "close second."
"We're starting to reap the benefits of how he's been playing," Cooper said.
MEDICAL MATTERS: C Brian Boyle, who suffered a lower-body injury blocking a shot Friday, did not play Sunday. But Cooper indicated that Boyle was expected to be able to return Tuesday against the Oilers. "Nothing serious," Cooper said. "He might have been able to play (Sunday). It's just one of those things that he's definitely not 100 percent, that's for sure."
RW Ryan Callahan, who didn't practice Saturday due to "body maintenance," played.
LINING UP: With Boyle out, Jonathan Marchessault returned to the lineup after having been a healthy scratch the previous four games. RW Erik Condra was also in and D Matt Carle was scratched as the team went with 12 forwards and six defensemen. Marchessault played just 8 minutes, 45 seconds, second fewest among forwards behind Condra's 7:06. C Steven Stamkos' 14:55 was eighth among forwards, though that likely was partially due to the Panthers having five power plays.
FISTS UP: C Cedric Paquette got in a third-period fight with Panthers C Derek Mackenzie, appearing to come to the defense of Marchessault, who took a big hit from D Alex Petrovic.
TRADE WINDS: No deals appeared imminent for RW Jonathan Drouin. Drouin has played six games for AHL Syracuse, with two goals, one assist and 15 shots. He was expected to play today against Rochester.
Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] Follow @TBTImes_JSmith.