TAMPA — A simple game paid off for the Lightning in a 3-1 win against the Blue Jackets on Thursday night.
“We’ve played a lot of hockey against them,” forward Ondrej Palat said. “They have nothing to lose there. They have a couple of young guys in the lineup, they play well, they check well, they don’t give you much, so it’s challenging for us to play against them, but we like that.”
Tampa Bay holds a 4-3-0 series lead over Columbus this season, with their series finale Sunday at Amalie Arena. With nine games remaining in the regular season, the Lightning (64 points) are in third place in the Central Division, trailing first-place Carolina (67) and Florida (65) after the Hurricanes beat the Panthers on Thursday night.
The Blue Jackets have lost eight straight; their last win was 4-2 against the Lightning on April 6.
The Blue Jackets (15-25-9) opened the scoring 9:36 into the first period with a power-play goal from defenseman Seth Jones that slipped past Lightning goalie Curtis McElhinney (24 saves).
After Columbus scored, the Lightning (31-14-2) couldn’t find any momentum. They were held to five shots on goal in the first, all of which came before the Jackets’ goal.
“We don’t have a shot, but we were pretty calm on the bench,” Palat said. “We were just talking about stick(ing) with it and play our game … don’t cheat the game, just play good defense and the chance is going to come.”
After the period, the Lightning picked up their pace some. They logged eight shots in the second, and one resulted in the tying goal from forward Blake Coleman.
About three-quarters of the way through the period, Lightning forward Yanni Gourde stole the puck from Blue Jackets forward Patrik Laine in the neutral zone. Gourde sped up and slid the puck across the ice to Coleman, who stood just above the right faceoff circle and brought his stick back for the shot.
Coleman’s shot bounced off the left goal post before trickling in behind Elvis Merzlikins (21 saves) to tie it with 5:09 remaining.
The Lightning had 15 shots in the third. The only one that mattered was Palat’s. He gave the Lightning their first lead about midway through the period on a rebound recovery from forward Alex Killorn, who collected the puck after a shot attempt from defenseman Erik Cernak.
Palat’s goal — on his only shot of the game — was his first since March 25, which halted a 13-game drought, his longest since a 20-game streak from Jan. 17-March 9, 2019.
“I just know he’s a big part of our team,” coach Jon Cooper said. “He expects a lot from himself, and he’s such a warrior for us, he’s been for almost a decade now. Guys play the right way, and you get rewarded for it. And (Palat is) a workhorse. It’s what he’s been doing.”
Coleman scored his second goal, an empty-netter, with 24.8 seconds remaining.
McElhinney registered his fourth win in 10 starts (4-5-1). It was a bounce-back effort following his previous start, in Nashville on April 13, when the team collapsed in a 7-2 loss.
“It felt great,” he said of the win. “Obviously it’s been a little up and down the last couple of games for us and trying to find our groove, so nice for me to get in there and get a win for the team. Obviously a big win for us moving forward.”
Blue Jackets 1-0-0—1
First Period—1, Columbus, Jones 5 (Laine, Bjorkstrand), 9:36 (pp). Penalties—Palat, TB (Cross Checking), 8:57.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Coleman 9 (Gourde), 14:51. Penalties—Dunne, CBJ (Holding), 2:48; Sherwood, CBJ (Roughing), 7:55.
Third Period—3, Tampa Bay, Palat 13 (Killorn), 8:14. 4, Tampa Bay, Coleman 10, 19:35 (en). Penalties—Dunne, CBJ (Hooking), 9:56.
Shots on Goal—Columbus 6-9-10_25. Tampa Bay 5-8-15_28.
Power-play opportunities—Columbus 1 of 1; Tampa Bay 0 of 3.
Goalies—Columbus, Merzlikins 6-12-2 (27 shots-25 saves). Tampa Bay, McElhinney 4-5-1 (25-24).
A—4,200 (19,092). T—2:23.
Referees—Pierre Lambert, Kyle Rehman.
Linesmen—Jesse Marquis, Libor Suchanek.
Contact Mari Faiello at email@example.com. Follow @faiello_mari.
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