Facing an NHL heavyweight on the second half of a back-to-back situation, the Lightning knew they caught a break Sunday when nemesis Evgeni Malkin was sidelined by a possible concussion.
The reigning NHL MVP torched Tampa Bay for eight goals and three assists in four matchups last season, but Pittsburgh's 26-year-old center didn't dress at the CONSOL Energy Center as the Lightning faced their second road test in two nights.
Malkin continues to undergo neurological tests after hitting his head against the boards against Florida on Friday night.
"It's a challenge every time you're on the ice against guys like that (Malkin),'' Lightning C Steven Stamkos said. "It's unfortunate and hopefully, it's not serious. They've gone through a lot of stuff like that with Sid (Crosby), but that's the game. Injuries are going to happen and teams have to move past that.''
Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said Malkin's absence would not alter his team's strategy "one iota'' as the Lightning came off Saturday's 5-2 triumph at Carolina.
"It's not about the other team, it's about us,'' Boucher said.
In 22 career games against the Lightning, Malkin has scored 14 goals and he leads all NHL players this season with 14 power-play points.
"Injuries give other guys a chance to step up,'' Stamkos said. "But Malkin has definitely been a Lightning killer over the past couple of years.''
Lightning assistant coach Steve Thomas was back with the club in Pittsburgh Sunday morning after flying to Montreal to see his 20-year-old son's NHL debut.
Rangers F Christian Thomas was credited with three hits and two shots on goal in 12:46 of ice time Saturday night in a 3-0 victory by the Canadiens. The former second-round draft pick was recalled from New York's AHL affiliate, the Connecticut Whale.
"I walked into the Montreal press box with about two minutes left in the first period,'' said Steve Thomas, Tampa Bay's player development coach. "It was a long day, but I made it. After the game, he was kind of like a deer in the headlights. He was relieved. Playing on one of the greatest stages in hockey, he was a little awestruck.''
Steve turned to someone he could trust to fill in the rest of the picture.
"From what my wife told me, on that first shift it was like Christian was shot out of a cannon, just going about 100 miles an hour,'' he said.
After starting 2-4 on the road, the Lightning played so well at Carolina that Boucher had difficulty finding flaws.
"We had unbelievable back pressure,'' Boucher said. "And we were very hard to get through.''
Tampa Bay nursed a 1-0 lead through two periods before the Lightning and Hurricanes combined for six goals in the final 20 minutes.
"That was probably our most solid game of the year from a forecheck perspective,'' Stamkos said. "It was our best game from a structural standpoint.''
Nuts and Bolts
D Keith Aulie returned to the lineup after missing three games due to illness. … The Lightning had dropped their last four regular-season games at Pittsburgh by a combined 25-5 margin. … Defensemen Brian Lee and Brendan Mikkelson were scratched as Boucher went with 12 forwards. … G Anders Lindback yielded three goals in 10 shots before being replaced by Mathieu Garon at the start of the second period.