TAMPA, Fla. -- Bryan Little doesn't get to use his power game very much. But manning up against one of the few smaller players in the NHL on Thursday at Tampa Bay Times Forum, the 5-foot-11 winger bullied his way to the goal and wrestled Winnipeg past the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in a colossal win the Jets felt they deserved all along.
With 4:08 left and the Lighting attempting to steal points in a game in which it largely had been controlled, Little took a loose puck in the corner and worked up the end line as the 5-foot-8 Martin St. Louis tried fruitlessly to stop him from beating goaltender Anders Lindback.
"St. Louis was behind me and I was just trying to kind of use my size," said Little, whose goal was his fourth of the season. "Not often I get to do that. I had a bit of room and it kind of opened up. I wasn't really aiming anywhere, just tried to sneak it through."
Jets backup goaltender Al Montoya (28 saves) made the 2-1 lead last -- although Vincent Lecavalier's miss of an open net in the final minute helped -- and Winnipeg (11-11-1) moved into second place in the Southeast Division, rebounding from a disheartening loss at Florida on Tuesday. Tampa Bay (10-13-1) fell from a second-place tie to fourth of five in the division, passed for the first time this season by the surging Washington Capitals.
Tampa Bay had tied the game nine minutes earlier in one of the Jets' few moments of defensive inattentiveness as Steven Stamkos blasted in his league-leading 18th goal of the season. After St. Louis had settled on a loose puck in the corner, Stamkos was allowed to bull-rush the net unopposed as the Jets' Blake Wheeler dawdled nearby. St. Louis zipped the puck into the crease and onto Stamkos stick.
"We were kind of a little watching," Montoya admitted. "St. Louis made a heck of a pass. You don't see that every night."
Winnipeg controlled play in the neutral zone in the second period -- though Tampa Bay still created a few sparkling chances -- and maintained the lead through a 5-on-3 penalty kill.
Tampa Bay looked a step slow throughout the long power play but would have tied it had Montoya not recovered to make a sliding stop of a Stamkos slap shot from the near left post. It was the fourth shot Montoya faced on the full two-minute penalty kill, brought on when Paul Postma and Mark Stuart were whistled on the same play. Jets coach Claude Noel deemed the penalty kill "a key thing."
"It's huge," Montoya said. "We know that's their bread and butter, so killing that, you take the wind out of them and you have all the momentum. That's kind of what we did there."
Winnipeg left wing Eric Tangradi scored his first goal of the season at 10:05 of the opening period. Kyle Wellwood set up the goal when he rooted the puck out from along the left boards under duress and passed backward to Tangradi, who was able to skate unopposed on goaltender Anders Lindback as the Lightning's Cory Conacher lost his stick.
"We didn't make many mistakes tonight, but they ended up in the back of our net," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "It was very difficult for the players. We get all these chances that most of the time we put in, but these last two games at home they just aren't going in."
Stamkos found little consolation in the notion that the Lightning, which has lost six of seven, is playing well.
"We can keep saying we are playing well," he said, "but if we are not winning then we got to find a way."
NOTES: Stamkos leads the NHL with 18 goals. ... He has recorded at least a point in 20 of the first 24 games this season. St. Louis is second in the NHL with 25 assists. ... Tampa Bay has scored an NHL-best 37 third-period goals. ... Vincent Lecavalier won 13 of 18 faceoffs. ... Lightning LW Ryan Malone (four goals, five points in 10 games) returned after missing 13 games with a lower-body injury. Malone, 33, had aggravated an existing injury on Feb. 10 during the team's typical pregame soccer drill. He had an assist and 19:26 in ice time on Thursday. ... Nineteen players have scored for the Lightning. ... Lightning prospect Brett Connolly was named the American Hockey League player of the month for February after recording seven goals and 15 points in 13 games. ... Winnipeg did not draw a penalty in the loss to the Panthers. The Winnipeg power play is a league-worst 1-for-32 since Feb. 7.