COLUMBUS, Ohio — There is no question what was the highlight play in the Lightning's 3-2 victory over the Blue Jackets on Saturday night at Nationwide Arena:
Steven Stamkos' league-best 20th goal on a snap shot off a backhand pass from captain Vinny Lecavalier that was so good, coach Guy Boucher's first words about it were, "Oh, my God."
"Not many guys can do that," Boucher said. "That was outstanding."
The goal was the winner, as it gave Tampa Bay a 3-1 lead with 9:55 left in the second period.
But more important in the victory — the second straight for the Lightning, which had not won two in a row since a Nov. 25-26 sweep of the Panthers — and more crucial going forward was the way Tampa Bay (14-16-2) closed out the game.
Players did not panic, did not turn the puck over and killed a third-period penalty to hold a one-goal lead. It was the opposite of Thursday's overtime win against the Flames, in which the team lost a two-goal, third-period lead and allowed a power-play goal.
"We experienced a similar type of situation where we were familiar with it, possibly, and we learned from it," defenseman Eric Brewer said.
"Absolutely," Boucher said. "In the third period we pressed less. We created a few turnovers at the blue line. We wanted to manage the puck and not give it away at the blue line, and that's what we did."
Add solid goaltending from Mathieu Garon, who played the past two seasons for the Blue Jackets and made 26 saves, and you have a pretty good blueprint.
"When you're winning games, you're gaining confidence," Stamkos said. "You're not thinking about it. You're just doing it. When we were on our skid, we didn't want to make mistakes. We saw in the third (period), we didn't back up as much."
Blair Jones scored from in front of the net off Teddy Purcell's pass from behind the goal line for a 1-0 lead in the first. Brewer made it 2-0 with 1:48 left in the first with his first goal of the season on a slap shot from the blue line. Then there was Stamkos' goal after Lecavalier threaded the puck past three defenders.
"A great pass," said Stamkos, who has four goals and seven points in his past three games. "I was just trying to set it up for him to tee it up in the slot. He kind of faked a guy out and gave it back."
Rick Nash made it 3-2 with a wraparound goal with 7:46 left in the second, and the continuously horrible Lightning power play — 0-for-3 with one shot — failed on two key chances to extend the third-period lead.
"There are things we can shore up," Brewer said.
But there also were plenty of highlights.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Jones 2 (Purcell), 7:27. 2, Tampa Bay, Brewer 1 (Stamkos, Malone), 18:12. Penalties—Wisniewski, Clm (tripping), 11:06; Kubina, TB (tripping), 12:03; Hedman, TB (holding), 15:46.
Second Period—3, Columbus, Umberger 6 (Prospal, Tyutin), 5:43 (pp). 4, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 20 (Lecavalier, Tyrell), 10:05. 5, Columbus, Nash 10 (Carter, Prospal), 12:14. Penalties—Jones, TB (cross-checking), 5:09; Downie, TB (slashing), 15:56.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Johansen, Clm (tripping), 5:41; Wisniewski, Clm (unsportsmanlike conduct), 15:57; Brewer, TB (hooking), 16:52. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 5-11-12—28. Columbus 11-9-8—28. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 3; Columbus 1 of 5. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Garon 8-8-1 (28 shots-26 saves). Columbus, Mason 4-13-1 (28-25).