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Rookie Johnson's first NHL goal keys Lightning over 'Canes

The SportsXchange

TAMPA, Fla. - Tyler Johnson picked a very good time to score his first NHL goal for the Lightning with a throng of family and friends there to see him at Tampa Bay Times Forum on Saturday night.

Johnson's first-period score cued a game of offense from unexpected places - including another rookie first-time scorer in Ondrej Palat - as Tampa Bay generated a badly needed 4-1 win over the Southeast Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes.

The victory ended a five-game home losing streak for the Lightning (12-15-1), who had dropped eight of its previous 10 games. The win kept Tampa Bay's gasping playoffs hopes alive. The Lightning passed the Washington Capitals in the Southeast Division and moved within six points of the first-place Hurricanes.

None of the players who scored for the Lightning have more than six goals this season. Tyrell had been recalled from the American Hockey League on Saturday morning.

"I thought the Johnson-Palat-(Dana)Tyrell line was the one that gave us the momentum right off the bat, first shift, first period they were just everywhere on the ice," said Lightning coach Guy Boucher.

As for secondary scoring, Boucher added, "If you don't get it, you don't win consistently in the NHL."

Carolina (15-11-1) has now dropped three of five.

Johnson's parents and some aunts were spending their last few days in town before returning home and the owner of his old juniors team in Spokane (Wash.) happened to be in Tampa for a business trip. His decorated puck will likely return home with family, he said.

"I just tried to play hard and some things went for me," said Johnson, who posed for pictures with the puck while wearing the team tradition of camo army jacket and battle helmet. "The team played hard all around and our line, we worked extremely well together. We had a lot of fun this time around."

Johnson gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead with 9:06 left in the first period. Recalled last week when captain Vincent Lecavalier was placed on injured reserve, the 22-year-old was leading the AHL in goals and continued his pace in his second career NHL game.

Johnson gathered in a ricochet along the left board and had space and time to shoot over goaltender Justin Peters' shoulder while defenseman Justin Faulk attempted to cover Johnson and Cory Conacher at the net. Conacher and Alex Killorn received assists. Johnson said he had struggled with nerves in his debut and felt more comfortable with several days to practice with the Lightning.

Tampa Bay boosted its lead to 2-0 with 13:25 left in the second period on Palat's first NHL goal, a carom off his skate after a Sami Salo slap shot from the high slot. Salo and Johnson were credited with assists.

"I just went hard to the net and I think it hit twice, their (defenseman's) skate and then mine," he said. "I didn't see the puck at all, so I just tried to screen the goalie."

Nate Thompson made it 3-0 at 7:05 of the second period when he broke out of the neutral zone while Drayson Bowman attempted unsuccessfully to keep up, crossed over and backhanded in the puck. The goal was Thompson's sixth of the season. B.J. Crombeen and Matt Carle were awarded assists.

Teddy Purcell scored on a breakaway for his fifth of the year and a 4-0 lead less than four minutes into the third period. Martin St. Louis and Victor Hedman had assists.

"It was the first time we played around with some new combinations," said Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller, "but we'll keep going at it."

Eric Staal scored his 13th goal of the season in the third period for Carolina.

"We thought we were playing a pretty good game, to be honest," Staal said. "In the third period we were down three, but we still felt like we were there to get one and you never know what can happen. They got the fourth before we could get that one but I thought we competed very hard."

Mathieu Garon had 21 saves for the Lightning. All three of his wins this year have come against the Hurricanes. Peters had 22 for Carolina.

NOTES: Two players (Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat) scored their first goal in the same game for the first time in Lightning history. ... Lightning rookies accounted for five points (Johnson (2), Palat, Conacher, Killorn) and have accounted for 37 points on the season. ... Teddy Purcell recorded his first goal since Feb. 16 at Florida. ... The Lightning improved to 3-0-0 against Carolina this season and have outscored the Hurricanes 13-4. ... Carolina right winger Alexander Semin has five goals and 10 assists in his last 11 games. ... Carolina center Tuomo Ruutu (hip surgery) is ahead of schedule in his rehab and could return soon. ... Adam Hall, released by the Lightning on Saturday, was claimed by Carolina and switched locker rooms for the game. He was minus-2. ... Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier missed his second straight game since being placed on injured reserve because a lower-body injury. ... Two-time Maurice Richard winner Steven Stamkos reached 20 goals at 26 games, the quickest of his career.
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