TAMPA, Fla. — The Hurricanes clearly view the Lightning as one of the teams they must get past to have a chance to play for the Stanley Cup. And after four straight games against Carolina, Tampa Bay knows the Hurricanes could present its toughest challenge in the Central Division.
With four games over six days, the teams have seen a lot of each other, and the stretch seemed much like a playoff series, with the teams adjusting from game to game.
Thursday’s contest wasn’t the Lightning’s finest. Tampa Bay struggled to capture any momentum, whether it was failing to maintain push on its power plays or just staying out of the penalty box.
But when the Lightning needed to be precise, they were. The result was a 3-1 win, their third straight over the Hurricanes, putting them in first place in the division.
Yanni Gourde’s game-winning goal 6:22 into the third period was so well-placed, Carolina goaltender James Reimer could only look back in disbelief as it 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 Victor 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.
Lightning backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney held his own in his third start of the season. Despite withstanding a barrage of Hurricanes shots, McElhinney allowed only a Brett Pesce goal with 5:37 left in the first period.
Playing for the first time in 10 days and coming off a game in which he allowed six goals on just 21 shots, McElhinney made 31 saves.
The Lightning fell behind 1-0 and were outplayed for the first and most of the second period until defenseman Mikhail Sergachev scored his first goal of the season with 7:21 remaining in the second.
Sergachev took the puck off the wall following a faceoff at the right circle and drove to the bottom of the circle, then turned toward the net and snuck the puck past Reimer.
On the power play, the Lightning spent far too much time in their own end, allowing three short-handed scoring opportunities in the first two periods.
Without defenseman Erik Cernak, who left the game 7:47 into the second period after blocking a shot on the penalty kill, the Lightning had to lean even more on its big-three defensemen Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Sergachev.
Blake Coleman had a breakaway in the first period — which was the Lightning’s best scoring chance in the first 20 minutes — but Dougie Hamilton’s holding penalty prevented Coleman from getting his back-handed shot attempt away.
Barclay Goodrow added an empty-net goal for the Lightning in the closing minutes.©2021 Tampa Bay Times. Visit at tampabay.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.