RALEIGH, N.C. — There's no sugarcoating how bad the Lightning power play has been recently.
"Fragile," coach Jon Cooper called it.
But Cooper believed the unit would find a way to rebound, and the power play couldn't have been more timely Sunday. Steven Stamkos' extra-man tally with about five minutes left was the difference in a 4-2 victory over the surging Hurricanes at PNC Arena.
The power play had been in an 0-for-12 skid, and it has allowed shorthanded goals in three straight games, the one in this game giving Carolina a 1-0 lead.
However, Tampa Bay wouldn't have swept its back-to-back games this weekend without it.
"It's really big," said wing Ryan Callahan, who had two goals, including an empty-netter to seal the win. "There's no question (the power play) has been struggling. It's been costing us the last couple games. Sometimes you need a big goal like that in the third to take the lead to kind of get things rolling and get the power play going again. Hopefully it's a kick-start in the right direction."
The Lightning (33-22-4) — playing without leading scorer Nikita Kucherov, who was day to day with a lower-body injury — still has work to do. It was outshot 31-18 — the 18 shots a season low — and relied too much on goalie Ben Bishop, who was spectacular again with 29 saves. But in beating the playoff-contending Penguins and Hurricanes in 48 hours, Tampa Bay moved into second place in the Atlantic Division.
"By no means are we satisfied with our play," Stamkos said. "But we're collecting points against some teams that we're fighting with. And that's what you want down the stretch."
Maybe the Lightning should bring its dads to every game.
The weekend's second annual fathers trip was extra special for Ted Brown, who watched son J.T. score Sunday across the street from where the elder Brown starred at running back for N.C. State before playing in the NFL. J.T. asked to wear his dad's No. 23 in college and has looked up some of his highlights on YouTube.
Ted said he knew early that J.T wouldn't follow in his football footsteps. "When a kid can't get up at 8 o'clock to go to football practice but he can get up at 5 a.m. to go to hockey practice, you know where his heart is," Ted said. Ted, wearing J.T.'s No. 23 jersey Sunday, said his son is "doing the number proud."
"It's great for me to see my kid come out here and play where I made a name for myself," Ted said. "It's really rewarding to see all the hard work he put in to get to this level and to be able do things here in front of Raleigh fans, and knowing I got history here, it makes it that much more special."
Brown's goal four minutes into the second tied the score at 1, the gritty wing doing dirty work in front of the net and pouncing on a rebound. Callahan made it 2-1 later in the second with a blast from the right circle and said his confidence is back after snapping an 18-game drought Tuesday against the Sharks.
The Lightning had to hold on for dear life near the end, with Bishop making several world-class saves to preserve the win.
"It became the Ben Bishop show," Cooper said. Said Stamkos: "We found a way."
First—1, Car, Nordstrom 7 (J.Staal, Slavin), 11:10 (sh). Penalties—Nesterov, TB (holding), 2:55; Liles, Car (delay of game), 9:32.
Second—2, TB, J.Brown 8 (Paquette, Sustr), 4:41. 3, TB, Callahan 7 (Stamkos, Nesterov), 8:27. 4, Car, Jordan 1 (Skinner, Rask), 12:59. Penalties—Nestrasil, Car (holding stick), 6:15; Versteeg, Car (slashing), 9:14.
Third—5, TB, Stamkos 25 (Johnson, Marchessault), 14:17 (pp). 6, TB, Callahan 8 (Palat, Paquette), 19:50 (en). Penalties—Coburn, TB (hooking), 10:48; J.Staal, Car (high-sticking), 12:21; Palat, TB (roughing), 17:41; Di Giuseppe, Car (roughing), 17:41. SOG—TB 6-5-7—18. Car 6-8-17—31. PPs—TB 1 of 4; Car 0 of 2. Goalies—TB, B.Bishop 24-17-3 (31 shots-29 saves). Car, Ward 17-12-7 (17-14). A—10,422 (18,680). T—2:20. Referees—Tim Peel, Brian Pochmara. Linesmen—Scott Driscoll, Jonny Murray.