TAMPA — Coming off consecutive shutout losses, the Lightning went on the lookout to find the dirty areas on the ice on Thursday to create scoring chances.
Marty St. Louis zeroed in those areas and cleaned up, scoring twice from the crease to lead Tampa Bay to a 3-1 victory against Ottawa in front of an announced crowd of 16,562 at The Forum.
Ondrej Palat, playing on a line with St. Louis for the first time, assisted on both of the goals while former Senator’s goaltender Ben Bishop stopped 32 shots against his old team for his 15th victory of the season as the Lightning snapped a two-game losing streak and improved to 11-3 on home ice. Bishop allowed two or fewer goals in his fifth consecutive start.
Valtteri Filppula notched is first goal in seven games to provide the final margin of victory.
Robin Lehner stopped 19 shots and Patrick Wiercioch scored for Ottawa, which fell nine points behind Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division standings.
After Tampa Bay’s most recent loss in Columbus on Tuesday, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper asked some of the team’s veteran players to take the reigns offensively by showing more grit and determination to find the high-traffic areas of the ice to help generate some offense. St. Louis did just that, scoring both of his goals from the top of the crease both on passes from Palat that came from behind the goal line.
“If you look at most of my goals, I’m not the kind of guy that is going to score from outside the circles, that’s just not my game,’’ St. Louis said. “I try to get free, go to the net and that’s what I did tonight and the puck came. I was opportunistic.’’
Palat was a big part of that, holding the puck behind the net and finding St. Louis perched out at the top of the crease on both goals.
“Everybody has to go to the net, if the (defense) has the puck, we have to go to the net, and Marty was there today,’’ said Palat, who also registered nine hits. “That’s how it works, if he’s going to get there, he’s going to get the puck and he’s probably going to score.’’
After getting off to a bit of a slow start and seeing a suddenly anemic power play stifle any chance of creating momentum in the first period, Matt Carle pinched down the boards, fed the puck to Palat down low before circling behind the net to find St. Louis, who collected the puck with his skate before shoveling the puck past Lehner at 16:45 of the first period.
The goal was the first for Tampa Bay since late in the third period against Philadelphia on Nov. 27, snapping a team scoring drought at 137 minutes, 19 seconds. It ended a drought of 151 minutes, 45 seconds for Tampa Bay scoring with a goaltender in the net.
“We hadn’t scored in a few games, so it was nice to play with the lead a little bit, that’s always a good feeling,’’ St. Louis said.
After Wiercioch tied the game with a power play goal 6:11 into the second period, St. Louis and Palat went to work again. After Tyler Johnson threw the puck into the corner, St. Louis went into the corner to deliver a hit to free up the puck and immediately made his way to the net. Palat, once again from behind the goal line, found St. Louis in front for his second of the night at 13:19 of the second period for his 47th career multi-goal game and move him into a tie for 91st on the all-time scoring list.
“Look where the goals were scored, right there in those areas we need to go to,’’ Cooper said. “That line was really good tonight. We had life, we had our legs going and played a north-south game, and those guys were humming. It was really good to see.’’
Tampa Bay carried that lead into the third period despite playing short to defensemen after the loss of Victor Hedman and Keith Aulie to injury. But when Filppula scored his 10th of the season - surpassing his total from last season in Detroit - on a wrist shot at 10:56, the game was all but sealed.
“This was a big effort from an extremely shorthanded team for most of the game,’’ Cooper said.