TAMPA — There are no illusions inside the Lightning locker room that the season's final few weeks will be difficult, especially for the defense.
With Steve Eminger and his average 23 minutes, 33 seconds of ice time traded to the Panthers, an already injury-ravaged blue line will have to scramble to compensate.
That is why Cory Murphy's effort in Friday night's 4-3 overtime loss to the Blues at the St. Pete Times Forum was so noteworthy.
The defenseman played a career-high 30:16 with four shots on goal, and he assisted on Steven Stamkos' 14th goal with 15.7 seconds left in regulation that sent the game to overtime and capped a three-goal third period in which Tampa Bay (21-31-13) overcame deficits of 2-0 and 3-1.
"He's played really well for us," coach Rick Tocchet said. "The last five games, I think he's been our best defenseman."
"We're a little bit thin, but we can't use that as an excuse," Murphy said. "It just means guys have to step up."
Brad Boyes did so for the Blues, ripping a shot into a top corner 27 seconds into the extra period past screened goaltender Karri Ramo, who said, "I don't know if I had a chance even if I had seen it clearly."
That the Lightning earned a point for the regulation tie was unexpected given how it sleepwalked through the first two periods with 14 shots while falling behind 2-0.
But Marty St. Louis' 23rd goal, on the power play, 3:28 into the third period, cut the deficit to one, and Matt Pettinger's third goal, and first in 31 games, made it 3-2 with 7:50 left.
"There's definitely a lot of character in that room," Murphy said.
It will be put to the test as coaches evaluate for next season.
Eyes are especially on defensemen Noah Welch and Lukas Krajicek — Welch because he was acquired in the Eminger deal, Krajicek because Tocchet wants to know if someone averaging 18 minutes can consistently handle 20.
Welch, who averaged 6:38 of ice time with the Panthers, played 23:06 and was caught up ice in a sequence that led to Keith Tkachuk's goal on a four-on-one in the second. Krajicek's giveaway behind the net led to the winner.
Tocchet called Welch a "work in progress" who must work on the technical aspects of his game.
Murphy simply worked.
"Once the puck drops, you play as hard as you can," he said. "That's the only thing we can do."
"I give him a lot of credit," Tocchet said. "When we picked him up on waivers, he wasn't playing that much in Florida. Now we're playing him 30 minutes. He deserves it. He's playing very well."
In a difficult situation.
First Period—None. Penalties—Melichar, TB, double minor (high-sticking), 3:01.
Second Period—1, St. Louis, Tkachuk 19 (Boyes, McDonald), 5:43. 2, St. Louis, McDonald 10 (Backes, Boyes), 9:25 (pp). Penalties—Woywitka, StL (hooking), 3:14; Prospal, TB (interference), 8:01; Welch, TB (hooking), 8:01; Hall, TB (hooking), 9:00; Perron, StL (roughing), 10:40.
Third Period—3, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 23 (Lecavalier, Stamkos), 3:28 (pp). 4, St. Louis, Backes 19 (Oshie, McDonald), 6:10. 5, Tampa Bay, Pettinger 3 (Halpern, Artyukhin), 12:10. 6, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 14 (Murphy, St. Louis), 19:44. Penalties—Berglund, StL (hooking), 3:01; Backes, StL (roughing), 6:10; Craig, TB (roughing), 6:10.
Overtime—7, St. Louis, Boyes 26 (Colaiacovo, McDonald), :27. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—St. Louis 10-13-11-2—36. Tampa Bay 4-10-9-0—23. Power-play opportunities—St. Louis 1 of 5; Tampa Bay 1 of 3. Goalies—St. Louis, Mason 15-17-5 (23 shots-20 saves). Tampa Bay, Ramo 2-6-2 (36-32). A—13,831 (19,758).