Tampa Bay 2, Ottawa 1

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OTTAWA (TICKER) —The Tampa Bay Lightning continued to show they belong in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Vincent Lecavalier scored a highlight-reel goal to snap a tie and Nikolai Khabibulin made 30 saves as the Lightning held on for a 2-1 victory over the league-leading Ottawa Senators.

After opening the season with 10 wins in their first 17 games, the Lightning went through a mid-season swoon, jeopardizing their chances for just the second playoff berth in franchise history. But coming into the game with a 5-1-2 record in its last eight games, Tampa Bay rallied for its first win in Ottawa since December 13, 1997.

Jody Hull finished a pretty passing play 10 minutes into the second period to give the Senators the lead, but Martin St. Louis netted just his second goal in 13 games 3 1/2 minutes later to even the contest.

With 55 seconds left in the period, Lecavalier took a drop pass from former Senator Vaclav Prospal above the right faceoff circle, put the puck between the legs of Magnus Arvedson while cutting to the slot and wristed a shot past goaltender Patrick Lalime’s glove to put Tampa Bay ahead.

“I was ready to shoot, then I tried the move,” Lecavalier said. “It works maybe one out of every 10 times. I’m happy about it working. It’s nice, since I’ve been struggling since the All-Star break.”

“It was embarrassing coming in here and losing 7-0 (last time),” Prospal said. “Tonight we were able to match their intensity and win the goaltending battle. It’s not an easy rink to win in.”

Khabibulin turned aside 10 shots in the first period and 11 in the third to improve to 5-0-1 in his last six starts after a disappointing first three quarters of the season.

“Nik was great,” Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said. “Every team that wants to win has to have solid goaltending, and Nik has given us that right now.”

With their third straight win, the Lightning moved into a tie with Washington atop the Southeast Division.

“We’re playing strong defensively and really grinding during the 5-on-5 hockey,” St. Louis said. “We’re looking beyond just making the playoffs and trying to get the best position possible.”

“We were mentally ready, but we got away from our game plan,” Hull said. “We’re not going to be successful scoring only one goal. This is what playoff hockey is all about. They’re fighting to climb and catch Washington.”

With just three wins in their last 19 road games, the Lightning fell behind midway through the second on Hull’s second goal of the season and first since January 2.

Chasing down a pass along the left boards, Shaun Van Allen put a cross-slot feed on the stick of Martin Havlat, who returned to the lineup after missing four games with a groin strain.

Alone in front, Havlat left a drop pass for Hull, who beat Khabibulin from the low slot to put the Senators on the way to their 11th straight home win over Tampa Bay.

“I was a little surprised to have such a clear shot,” Hull said. “The line change sprung two of us on net. I knew Marty was a bit bunched and would only be able to tip it to me. All I had to do was shoot.”

“Patty started it all with a great pass to Reds (Wade Redden) at center, who got it to me,” Van Allen added. “I saw players coming off the bench. When Havlat yelled, I passed it. Then Havlat made a great drop pass and Hull finished it off.”

But with Arvedson serving a cross-checking penalty, St. Louis carried across the slot from below the left circle and waited for Lalime to commit before backhanding the puck into an open net to tie it at 13:29.

“Vaclav Prospal made a great second effort to get the puck to me,” St. Louis said. “I had lots of time, but my bad angle made me think (Lalime) was going to poke-check. I hoped I could get an empty net if I got around him, and it worked out for me.”

Havlat nearly netted his fourth goal in three games late in the second, but his breakaway shot hit the right goalpost.

Tampa Bay had a goal disallowed early in the third when video replay officials ruled that Ben Clymer directed the puck into the net with his body.

Khabibulin made his best save with less than seven minutes left in the first. Defenseman Nolan Pratt turned over the puck to Daniel Alfredsson in the slot, but Khabibulin snagged the Ottawa captain’s shot with his glove to keep the game scoreless.

“He made a lot of key saves in the first five to 10 minutes,” Lecavalier said. “When things were a little shaky for us, he kept us in the game and gave us a chance before things got out of hand.”

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