Lightning 3, Hurricanes 2, OT

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TAMPA, Fla. – Martin St. Louis’ breakaway goal with 10.7 seconds remaining in overtime gave the Lightning a 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes and moved the defending Stanley Cup winners a step closer to clinching a postseason berth.

Brad Richards and Fredrik Modin also scored for Tampa Bay, which snapped a three-game losing streak despite squandering a 2-0 lead in the third period. John Grahame stopped 25 shots, and the Lightning killed off Carolina’s last power-play opportunity before St. Louis delivered the winner after picking up the loose puck near the red line.

The victory enabled the eight-place Lightning to retain a three-point advantage over ninth-place Atlanta, which had pulled within one point with a 4-3 victory over Boston earlier in the day.

Tampa Bay has 92 points with one game remaining at home against Washington on Tuesday night. Atlanta has 89 points with two games remaining – at Washington on Monday and at Florida Tuesday night.

Carolina, which won a shootout against Tampa Bay in Raleigh on Friday night, rallied on third-period goals by Cory Stillman and Matt Cullen and took over sole possession of the top spot in the East with 112 points – one more than Ottawa, which lost 5-1 at Toronto.

Despite its 5-4 loss the night before, the Lightning got a much-needed point in the standings and showed signs of pulling out of the funk that denied them an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth earlier in the week.

The sense of urgency that was missing in lopsided losses to Florida and Atlanta was much more evident in both games against Carolina, which didn’t itself Saturday night by going 0-for-5 on the power play in the first two periods.

Grahame, whose inconsistency cost him the No. 1 goaltender’s job to Sean Burke late in the season, stopped 24 shots in regulation – none bigger than his rejection of Stillman’s point-blank opportunity on a breakaway to protect a 1-0 lead.

Modin scored 30 seconds later to make it 2-0, but the Hurricanes were not finished.

Stillman’s 21st goal of the season trimmed Carolina’s deficit in half with just under 12 minutes to go in regulation. Cullen, who scored the only goal in Friday night’s shootout, added his 25th to make it 2-all with 8:44 remaining.

Notes: Grahame is 5-1 against Carolina this season. … The Lightning have won nine of their past 10 home games. … Despite going 7-8-1 in their last 16 away from home, the Hurricanes’ 21 road victories equal the franchise record set during the 1989-90 season.

AP-ES-04-15-06 2228EDT

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