Lightning top Carolina Hurricanes to extend win streak to seven games

Steven Stamkos has a goal and an assist as Tampa Bay ties Vancouver for the league’s longest active winning streak.
Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce (22) and Hurricanes left wing Teuvo Teravainen (86), of Finland, chase the puck with Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020.
Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce (22) and Hurricanes left wing Teuvo Teravainen (86), of Finland, chase the puck with Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020. [ GERRY BROOME | AP ]
Published Jan. 6, 2020|Updated Jan. 7, 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. — For the first couple of months this season, the Lightning had trouble stringing together wins. They didn’t have long losing streaks, but nor did they have winning streaks.

On Sunday, Tampa Bay won its seventh in a row with a 3-1 victory over the Hurricanes and moved within one point of second in the Atlantic Division. Oh, the difference a bunch of wins in a row makes.

“We’ve found different ways (to win),” said Steven Stamkos, who had a goal and an assist. “We’ve come from behind; we’ve played with the lead. We had some tight ones down the stretch. It feels like we’re more comfortable now in those situations than we were in the beginning of the year.”

Related: How do the Lightning decide which goalie to start in a back-to-back?

Not that anyone in the Lightning’s dressing room is surprised by this winning streak, which ties the Canucks for the longest active one in the league. They’ve liked the way they’ve been playing for the past month and a half. They just weren’t getting the results they wanted.

Now they have put that final piece in place: completing a well-played game to earn a win.

“We’re starting to get confident that we can put goals in the net,” Kevin Shattenkirk said the night before, when the Lightning had to come from behind to beat the Senators. “It’s just a matter of keeping them out of (our) net. We’re sticking to those principles in our (defensive) zone that makes us tougher to play against.”

The first part of that comment is important. When the Lightning were playing well but not winning, players and coaches made comments after games to the effect of, “That’s just how things are going,” with bad bounces against them and small mistakes turning into goals.

Now they have a sense that they can win every game, and it’s showing in the results.

The Lightning are playing better with the lead as well. Stamkos likes the way they keep attacking after going ahead, even when they aren’t reaching for that next goal.

On Sunday, they gave up a third-period goal to Carolina as their energy started to lag, but they made sure that was the only one the Hurricanes got.

The situation was stacked against the Lightning on Sunday. Not only were they in the second half of back-to-back games while Carolina had been at home waiting for them, but they had traveled 824 miles overnight from Ottawa.

Carolina is known for its fast starts, and that can be lethal against a tired team. But it was the Lightning who struck early.

They were outshot 13-5 in the first period but scored on two of those shots 2:08 apart for a 2-0 lead.

Mitchell Stephens scored his second career goal 2:36 into the game. Nikita Kucherov tried to set up Carter Verhaeghe at the goal mouth, but Verhaeghe couldn’t quite get his stick on the puck. He tracked it down, though, and threw it over to Stephens, who crashed the net for a one-timer.

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Related: Tyler Johnson's late goal gives the Lightning a win over Ottawa

Kucherov set up the next goal also, though he wasn’t credited with an assist on it. He forced a turnover in front of the Carolina net, possibly getting away with hooking in the process. The puck popped out to the left circle for Stamkos. The captain settled the puck and put a wrist shot on goalie Petr Mrazek.

“We wanted to lay it out on the line early,” Stamkos said. “We had a great start, and that was part of the game plan. Then we weathered the storm the rest of the way, led by our goaltender and our penalty kill.”

The Lightning followed that with a strong second period, one of their best periods of the season. They outshot the Hurricanes 17-5, did not take a penalty and controlled play throughout.

Brayden Point added to the lead 5:19 into the second. He got the puck from Kucherov at the bottom of the left circle and made a nice move before lifting it over Mrazek’s pads.

That was enough offense to sustain the Lightning when the long weekend began to show its effects in the third period. Andrei Vasilevskiy stood strong in net, giving up only one goal, on a well-placed shot by Andrei Svechnikov, of 29 shots he faced.

Now the Lightning, who a month ago were struggling to get out of sixth in the division, are right back in the mix at the top.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at Follow @dianacnearhos.

Lightning 2-1-0—3

Hurricanes 0-0-1—1

First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Stephens 2 (Kucherov, Verhaeghe), 2:36. 2, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 16, 4:44. Penalties—Niederreiter, Car (Hooking), 9:24; Sergachev, Tam (Slashing), 15:55.

Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Point 17 (Stamkos, Kucherov), 5:19. Penalties—Edmundson, Car (Tripping), 11:46.

Third Period—4, Carolina, Svechnikov 18 (Slavin, Pesce), 11:48. Penalties—Cernak, Tam (Interference), 9:30; Maroon, Tam (Holding), 17:34; Maroon, Tam (Unsportsmanlike Conduct), 17:34.

Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 5-17-4_26. Carolina 13-5-11_29. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 2; Carolina 0 of 4. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 19-9-2 (29 shots-28 saves). Carolina, Mrazek 16-10-2 (26-23). A—18,015 (18,680). T—2:28. Referees—Tom Chmielewski, Brian Pochmara. Linesmen—Derek Nansen, Libor Suchanek.