TAMPA, Fla. – So much for the Ottawa Senators being vulnerable in the first round of the NHL playoffs because of rookie goaltender Ray Emery.
Emery stopped 30 shots and Martin Havlat scored for the fourth straight game Thursday night, leading the Eastern Conference’s top seed to a 5-2 victory that pushed the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning to the brink of elimination.
The Senators lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and can close it out by winning Game 5 in Ottawa on Saturday night.
To stay alive, the Lightning have to win three straight games against an opponent they have only beaten three times in 24 meetings over the past five seasons.
Dany Heatley had a goal and two assists for Ottawa, while Jason Spezza, Chris Phillips and Chris Neil each scored a goal.
Havlat, who assisted on Heatley’s goal, has eight points in the series after missing 58 regular season games with a dislocated shoulder.
Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards scored in the opening period for Tampa Bay, which sputtered after a strong start. Goalie John Grahame allowed four goals in 17 shots after giving up five in 20 shots in a lopsided loss in Game 3 on Tuesday night. Despite being dominated during the 8-4 loss in Game 3, Lightning coach John Tortorella said after the game he felt his team had gotten to Emery with three third-period goals and called the rookie Ottawa’s “weak spot.”
That certainly wasn’t the case Thursday night.
The Lightning’s first goal glanced off St. Louis just as the Tampa Bay star was pushed into Emery in front of the net. The rookie stopped 19 shots during the last two periods, giving his teammates a chance to take control of the game.
The Senators struck first when Speeza took a pass from Heatley and deked Tampa Bay’s Dimitry Afanasenkov to get a clear shot at Grahame from the slot. The goal gave the Ottawa center points in all four games of the series, but hardly slowed down the Lightning.
St. Louis’ fourth goal of the series tied it 5 minutes later, and Richards’ second put Tampa Bay ahead 2-1 with 3:45 remaining in the opening period and gave a sellout crowd of 20,682 hopes of evening the series.
That chance evaporated in the second period.
Phillips tied it early in the period, and the Senators scored twice in 40 seconds for a 4-2 lead with 2:10 left. Havlat flicked a pass through the crease for an assist on Heatley’s power-play goal that snapped the tie, then gave Ottawa some breathing room with the last goal against Grahame.
Sean Burke replaced Grahame and gave up Neil’s goal less than 2 minutes into the third.