When the Tampa Bay Lightning host another critical Central Division series during their six-game homestand, coach Jon Cooper will be looking for his team to keep moving forward.
In their final regular-season games in Tampa, the Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes will play Monday night in the start of back-to-back matches.
Through six meetings, the Lightning — who are playing their fifth straight game against a club in the top half of the Central — are 3-2-1 against the first place-Hurricanes and 2-0 at home.
In four of the six games, the losing side has been blanked three times and scored only one goal once, with Carolina’s Petr Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic and Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy posting shutouts.
Tampa Bay split games with rival Florida on Thursday and Saturday, but the Panthers came away with three points with the help of a 3-2 overtime loss in the opener and Saturday’s regulation win.
Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak scored Saturday in the final minute of the second period to bring the home side to within two, but Cooper said allowing four goals — and ultimately five after Anthony Duclair’s empty-netter — was too much to overcome.
“We had a lot of puck possession tonight; I just don’t know how much we generated,” Cooper assessed after the 5-3 loss. “I thought we actually played better tonight than we did the other night when we won. Sometimes that happens.
“You get three (goals) in this league, you should be able to get points. We score three and don’t get anything. It comes down to what you’ve got to keep out of your net.”
In Thursday’s win, the Lightning were outshot 38-19 and badly outplayed by the Panthers most of the game. But Victor Hedman’s late heroics on a breakaway earned the home team two points.
Meanwhile, coach Rod Brind’Amour’s Hurricanes are playing well down the stretch, posting a 5-1-1 mark in their last seven contests and narrowly holding the lead in the Central.
Their most recent success — Saturday night’s 3-1 win over visiting Nashville — was a gritty 1-1 affair for the majority of the time, but newly acquired Jani Hakanpaa notched his first career game-winning goal in just his second contest with Carolina.
The former Anaheim Ducks blueliner took a faceoff win by Vincent Trocheck and blasted home the go-ahead marker midway through the second period as the Hurricanes moved to 6-0 against the Predators.
The tally was Hakanpaa’s second NHL goal in 49 career games.
Trocheck has points in 15 of his last 16 games (eight goals, 13 assists) dating back to Feb. 27.
With a 29-10-4 record, the Hurricanes have matched their best point output ever through 43 games, tying the 2005-06 mark set during their Stanley Cup-winning season.
In a dominant first period Saturday, Brind’Amour saw the kind of play he wanted to see from his team as they put up 24 shots to just seven by Nashville for a 1-0 lead.
“It’s probably one of the best periods I’ve seen ever,” Brind’Amour said. “We were good. We were on it in everything we were doing. Probably should have had a few more, but nice to have one.”
–Field Level Media