TAMPA — Karri Ramo wasn't trying to be modest, just honest. The puck everybody believed he saved by diving stick-first toward the goal, probably hit the side of the net, the Lightning goaltender said.
Much more important, he said, was he was aware the puck bounced over his sprawled body.
"I got it," he said, "between my legs."
That's how Tuesday night's 3-1 victory over the Panthers at the St. Pete Times Forum went for Ramo, who made a career-high 34 saves as Tampa Bay snapped a three-game losing streak and dealt a severe blow to Florida's dim playoff hopes.
Jeff Halpern returned after missing one game with an abdominal strain and had three points, including his 17th goal, the winner, that broke a 1-1 tie 1:11 into the third period.
Michel Ouellet scored his 16th goal and had an assist, and Filip Kuba's empty-netter with 52 seconds left ensured the Lightning (30-38-8) at least 30 victories for the fifth straight season.
"It is huge to win a game like this," Ramo said.
For the 21-year-old rookie, who started only because of Mike Smith's knee injury, it was personal.
Ramo allowed five third-period goals on 15 shots in his previous start, March 19 against the Sabres, so answering was a crucial test. And coach John Tortorella said before Tuesday's game he believes Ramo's development might benefit by starting next season with AHL Norfolk.
Tortorella was not running Ramo down, but expressing his belief it was unfortunate Ramo, after missing eight weeks at the start of Norfolk's season with a high ankle sprain, was put into a losing situation with Tampa Bay after Marc Denis was demoted.
"I'm not crazy about the process we're putting him through right now," Tortorella said. "It's not good for a 21-year-old goalie."
General manager Jay Feaster said no decisions have been made about Ramo's future: "We will weigh all opinions and options at the end of the season."
"I don't know anything about those kinds of things," Ramo said. "I work hard every day to make sure I stay in this league."
Outdueling Tomas Vokoun and beating the Panthers, who entered on an 8-0-1 streak, was a good way to do it.
Ramo's most dramatic save came with 2:26 left when he stopped Kamil Kreps' wrist shot from the top of the right faceoff circle with a right-leg save.
Ramo was feeling his game at that point after being overly aggressive early and sometimes out of position. He hit his stride in what was otherwise a dreadful second period for the Lightning, making 15 saves as Florida outshot Tampa Bay 16-4.
He probably wants back David Booth's tying goal 2:58 into the second, but as much to blame was a terrible giveaway at the blue line by Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle.
"We were happy for him because this kid has had a kind of 'hinky' year as far as the development for a young guy like him, at that position, with the injury and being called up into this mess," Tortorella said. "So, it's good."
"He was great," Halpern said. "He gave us a chance to be in the game and win it. That's the mark of a good goalie."
In any league.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Ouellet 16 (Halpern, Boyle), 3:00. Penalties—Bouwmeester, Fla (hooking), 9:59; Lessard, TB (hooking), 16:51.
Second Period—2, Florida, Booth 21, 2:58. Penalties—None.
Third Period—3, Tampa Bay, Halpern 17 (Ouellet, J.Jokinen), 1:11. 4, Tampa Bay, Kuba 5 (Halpern), 19:08 (en). Penalties—Boyle, TB (slashing), 9:51; Picard, TB (hooking), 19:27. Shots on Goal—Florida 7-16-12—35. Tampa Bay 11-4-11—26. Power-play opportunities—Florida 0 of 3; Tampa Bay 0 of 1. Goalies—Florida, Vokoun 30-27-8 (25 shots-23 saves). Tampa Bay, Ramo 6-10-2 (35-34). A—16,110 (19,758). T—2:18. Referees—Rob Martell, Don Van Massenhoven. Linesmen—Derek Nansen, Pierre Racicot.