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McElhinney lifts Lightning to third straight win over Hurricanes

The backup goaltender stops 31 shots to make up for a lackluster performance 10 days ago.
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak (81), goaltender Curtis McElhinney (35), and defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) battle to keep Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal (11) from the net during first period action at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 in Tampa.
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Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak (81), goaltender Curtis McElhinney (35), and defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) battle to keep Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal (11) from the net during first period action at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Feb. 26
Updated Feb. 26

TAMPA — Redemption has to wait a little longer when you’re a backup goaltender, and it took the Lightning’s Curtis McElhinney 10 days to get back on the ice to put a poor performance behind him.

“At times, you’re riding high, and then other times, you get smacked around pretty good and you just can’t wait to get back in there,” McElhinney said.

The 37-year-old knows the Hurricanes well. He played for Carolina two years ago, one of eight stops in a 13-year NHL career. And he studied Carolina from the bench the past three games before getting the start Thursday night.

On a night his teammates needed a boost, McElhinney provided it, recording 31 saves in the Lightning’s 3-1 win at Amalie Arena.

“I don’t know if we gave out three stars (for the game), but he should have been star one, two and three,” said coach Jon Cooper.

As much as that was meant as a compliment for McElhinney, Cooper’s statement also expressed his disappointment in the overall play of the Lightning (13-4-1).

“(McElhinney) was unbelievable,” said defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who scored the tying goal in the second period. It was his first goal of the season.

“You can even see it in practice. He never lets anybody score on him. He tries so hard, and you can see it in the game, too. He made some saves today that were like, ‘Whoa.’

“It was really nice to see him go out and perform well, and I was really happy for him. But we as a team should be doing a better job in front of him. I would say we were blocking shots for him (Thursday), but still, those turnovers, and they had us in the zone for a little while there. We should be better.”

McElhinney was able to put his last start, in which he allowed six goals on 21 shots in a 6-4 loss to the Panthers on Feb. 15, behind him.

“I kind of started chasing the game a little bit in that Florida game,” McElhinney said. “And for me and the way that I’m capable of playing and when I’m at my best, it’s usually a pretty controlled game and me trying to stay inside that blue paint.

“So I think that was kind of the emphasis on this game (Thursday), just try to be a little bit more controlled and let those (defensemen) do their job out in front of me.”

The Lightning penalty kill was 6-for-6 Thursday. And Tampa Bay blocked 15 shots in front of McElhinney.

The Lightning played nearly half the game without top right-shot defenseman Erik Cernak, who left after blocking a shot midway through the second period. Cernak’s departure forced the Lightning to lean more on their big three defensemen, Victor Hedman (26:47 ice time), Sergachev (24:17) and Ryan McDonagh (21:18).

Cooper didn’t have an update on Cernak after the game.

“Let’s be honest. The game wasn’t pretty,” Cooper said. “Our performance was subpar and not what we’re used to with the Lightning. … Did we make it hard on ourselves? We most certainly did, but we also gamed it out, and the shot-blocking and the commitment to keeping the puck out of the net was exceptional, and that’s why we won.”

Tampa Bay failed to convert on any of its power plays, going 0-for-5.

Still, the Lightning generated just enough offense to win. Forward Yanni Gourde’s winning goal 6:22 into the third period was so well-placed, goaltender James Reimer could only look back in disbelief as the puck clanked into the far top corner of the net.

Gourde’s goal, his fifth of the season, was set up by a terrific stretch pass through the neutral zone from Hedman, who found Gourde all alone at the blue line. Gourde sped to the top of the right circle and unleashed a rocket wrister top shelf.

Forward Barclay Goodrow added an empty-net goal.

“We’ve seen these guys a lot,” Gourde said of the Hurricanes. “They know us; we know them. It feels like a little bit of a playoff games out there. Obviously, we needed a better game (Thursday night). We were fortunate enough to come up with the win because ‘Mac’ was amazing in the net.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.

Hurricanes 1-0-0—1

Lightning 0-1-2—3

First Period—1, Carolina, Pesce 2 (Fast, Aho), 14:23. Penalties—Hamilton, CAR (Holding), 8:44; Pesce, CAR (Delay of Game), 14:31; Killorn, TB (Slashing), 15:07; Staal, CAR (High Sticking), 18:20.

Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Sergachev 1 (Point), 12:39. Penalties—Maroon, TB (Slashing), 2:36; Rutta, TB (Holding), 6:59; Necas, CAR (Holding), 9:16; Tampa Bay bench, served by Palat (Too Many Men on the Ice), 16:46; Lorentz, CAR (Interference), 19:28.

Third Period—3, Tampa Bay, Gourde 5 (Hedman, McElhinney), 6:22. 4, Tampa Bay, Goodrow 5, 18:44 (en). Penalties—Tampa Bay bench, served by Joseph (Roughing), 7:48; Maroon, TB (Roughing), 7:48.

Shots on Goal—Carolina 13-12-7_32. Tampa Bay 6-8-8_22. Power-play opportunities—Carolina 0 of 6; Tampa Bay 0 of 5. Goalies—Carolina, Reimer 8-2-0 (21 shots-19 saves). Tampa Bay, McElhinney 1-1-0 (32-31), Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 11-3-1 (0-0). T—2:36. Referees—Furman South, Justin St. Pierre. Linesmen—Ryan Daisy, Travis Gawryletz.

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