TAMPA — First, there was the birth of his daughter, Alina, six weeks premature, the day after Christmas.
Then his early January bout with the flu.
"A weird time," Lightning goalie Antero Niittymaki conceded. "There were so much other things to think about."
But after Wednesday night's 3-0 victory over the Canadiens at the St. Pete Times Forum, and after Niittymaki's 33 saves earned him his first shutout of the season, there only was this:
"It's fun to play when you feel good."
"And he played great," captain Vinny Lecavalier said.
And he did it in a big win for Tampa Bay (22-20-10), which has its first three-game winning streak since Jan. 27, 2009, when it beat, oddly enough, the Canadiens.
The minirun also has pushed the Lightning, on a 7-1-1 run at home, back into the playoff chase. With 54 points, it is one out of the East's last spot.
The team also responded after what coach Rick Tocchet called "one of our worst games" of the season, Saturday's 2-1 shootout win over the Thrashers, who had 25 scoring chances.
"We kind of gave it to the players pretty good about that, so it was important to play this style against a team ahead of us," Tocchet said. "The reaction of the players is very encouraging. They answered the bell."
Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis scored, with Lecavalier's goal from in front of the net with his stick between his legs just like the one he scored against the Canadiens during the 2004 playoffs.
"Almost the exact same play," he said.
Steven Stamkos' team-best 28th goal was his 11th on the power play, and Steve Downie had two assists, including a steal-and-feed to St. Louis for the game's first tally, 9:50 into the first period.
Niittymaki made it stand up, starting with a glove save on Benoit Pouliot's breakaway at 5:51 and ending with a steady third period in which he made 10 saves while teammates, as Tocchet said, "didn't cheat."
"Guys had short shifts. They did the right things. They played for each other and Niitty," Tocchet said.
Niittymaki has made seven straight starts, six while Mike Smith was sidelined with a neck strain, and is getting stronger. In his past three games, he has stopped 90 of 93 shots for a .968 save percentage and a 0.95 goals-against average.
"You get into the rhythm the more you play," he said
It helps that the flu is gone and Alina is healthy after a hospital stay got her weight up.
"It takes you a couple games to start feeling like you're used to," Niittymaki said.
For the Lightning, it was just in time.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 14 (Downie), 9:50. Penalties—Szczechura, TB (tripping), 2:18; Gomez, Mon (hooking), 12:48; Smaby, TB (hooking), 19:33.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 14 (Tanguay, Downie), 2:23. 3, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 28 (Foster, Lecavalier), 5:54 (pp). Penalties—Gionta, Mon (tripping), 4:31; Gomez, Mon, double minor-misconduct (roughing), 9:51; O'Byrne, Mon, major (fighting), 9:51; Smaby, TB, major (fighting), 9:51; Hedman, TB, double minor-misconduct (roughing), 9:51; Hamrlik, Mon (hooking), 15:32.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Malone, TB (interference), 12:50. Shots on Goal—Montreal 12-9-12—33. Tampa Bay 8-12-10—30. Power-play opportunities—Montreal 0 of 3; Tampa Bay 1 of 3. Goalies—Montreal, Price 11-17-4 (30 shots-27 saves). Tampa Bay, Niittymaki 12-9-4 (33-33). A—14,404 (19,758).