Pittsburgh 3, Tampa Bay 2

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TAMPA, FLORIDA (TICKER) —As much as the Pittsburgh Penguins needed rookie goaltender Sebastien Caron to continue his impressive start, they also needed Alexei Kovalev to start scoring again.

Caron made 29 saves and Kovalev ended an 11-game goalless drought in the second period as the Penguins held on for a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Making his third straight start, Caron made seven saves in the first, 13 in the second and nine in the third to remain undefeated. Recalled from the minors on January 7, Caron replaced Jean-Sebastien Aubin in the second period of last Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers and did not allow a goal in his NHL debut.

“They played well,” Caron said. “They were coming hard at the end, forechecking well, getting the puck to the net. The guys cleared the front of the net, so I could see the puck.

“I’m really happy with my game. I’m surprising myself, but I’m working hard. If I can help the team as I much as I can, that’s a plus. I want to stay here.”

Caron’s best stop came midway through the second period, when he denied Martin St. Louis on a shorthanded breakaway.

“He’s unbelievable,” Penguins defenseman Marc Bergevin said. “Caron saved the game for us. He made some key saves. He played good in the first and second period. We had some breakdowns, but he made the key saves at key times.”

Kovalev had not scored since getting two goals in a 5-2 victory over Buffalo on December 23. Elected as a starter in the All-Star Game along with teammate Mario Lemieux, Kovalev netted his 20th goal 8:08 into the second to end the skid and give the Penguins a 2-0 lead.

Kovalev had taken 31 shots before Friday and had collected 10 of his 35 assists during the slide. But with Lemieux out with a groin injury and Aleksey Morozov still sidelined with a fractured wrist, Kovalev’s scoring ability was needed more than ever as the Penguins battle for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Kovalev ended the drought when he stole the puck from a Tampa Bay defenseman in the neutral zone, skated through the slot and fired a wrist shot past goaltender John Grahame, who was making his first start for the Lightning since being acquired from Boston on Monday.

“It was a matter of time,” Penguins coach Rick Kehoe said. “We were firing away and he was getting his chances. He finally got one. This was an important one.”

Wayne Primeau and Milan Kraft also scored for Pittsburgh, which ended a seven-game winless streak (0-5-1-1) in Tampa Bay.

Andre Roy spoiled Caron’s bid for a second straight shutout 11:34 into the second and Vincent Lecavalier netted a power-play goal for Tampa Bay, which fell to 3-6-1-1 over its last 11 games.

After Roy ended the shutout, Kraft teamed up with Martin Straka for the decisive goal 5:21 later.

Straka deked Grahame in the slot with some nifty moves before dishing to Kraft, who beat the goaltender to the stick side with a soft shot from the left side of the net.

Against Grahame, who fell to 5-1-1 lifetime vs. the Penguins, Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead on Primeau’s fifth goal.

After Tampa Bay defenseman Pavel Kubina inadvertently put a shot on his own goalie, Primeau sneaked in and tapped the loose puck past Grahame.

The Lightning failed to pick up points on Washington, which lost to Toronto, and remained four points out of first place in the Southeast Division and one behind the New York Islanders for the eighth and final playoff spot.

“That’s what we deserve right now,” said defenseman Dan Boyle, who returned after missing four games with a fractured left index finger. “We’re not playing well enough to be a playoff team. We’re officially not in playoff position now. We know we need to pick it up. I hope that this will give us that much more incentive. As the game went on, we picked it up, but it was too late.”

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Goalie Team Shot Save
John Grahame NYI 21 18