It was a bit of a surprise tonight when Vincent Lecavalier’s name appeared on the lineup sheet in Tampa Bay, but Lecavalier made his return to action tonight just four weeks after having surgery on his hand for a broken knuckle. To help celebrate, the Lightning pulled off a 2-1 shootout win against Southeast Division running mate Atlanta to welcome back their captain.
Lecavalier played 16:58 tonight and registered four shots on goal and a +1 rating, amounting for a solid night out for the team. The story in this one was the battle between the goaltenders. Atlanta’s Ondrej Pavelec made 30 saves while Mike Smith made 27 saves and got the win in the shootout after stopping all four shots he faced. Only Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman was able to get a goal in the shootout in the fourth round to get the win for Tampa Bay. Tampa’s Sean Bergenheim and Atlanta’s Rich Peverley got the goals that counted in regulation.
With Lecavalier back in the lineup, Tampa Bay’s top two lines look more formidable as one of Tampa Bay’s weaknesses is their depth up the middle. With how great Steve Stamkos has been this year, he and Lecavalier are really the teams only two offensively-capable centers. Giving the second line that balance with Lecavalier back is a huge boost for the Tampa Bay offense. Once the team gets scoring agitator Steve Downie back they’ll be at full speed offensively, but for now Stamkos is doing fine without him.
Tampa now gets themselves in even tighter in the race in the Southeast as the Caps continue to slide and they now tie Atlanta for second place after giving up the charity point and earning two for themselves. If this race can stay close the rest of the way, it could make for an unusually fun race to win the division this season.