RALEIGH — The Tampa Bay Lightning have re-entered the playoff picture after shaking off their early season doldrums.
If the Carolina Hurricanes play like they did Sunday afternoon, they’ll find themselves going in the other direction.
The Lightning scored twice in the first five minutes and controlled the rest of the game, winning 3-1 over the Hurricanes in front of 18,015 at PNC Arena.
“We weren’t ready to play,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “At the end of the day, two periods where we didn’t do anything and can’t expect to win that way. We were flat. It’s tough to find someone that was really having a great game out of our group. … Just disappointing, for sure.”
The Lightning, coming off a game the night before and a late arrival in Raleigh ahead of a 5 p.m. start, got a quick start courtesy their fourth line.
After Hurricanes goal Petr Mrazek (23 saves) stopped a Carter Verhaeghe attempt at the doorstep, the Lightning forward recovered the puck and zipped a pass to Mitchell Stephens for his second career goal and a 1-0 lead just 2:36 into the game.
Tampa Bay padded its lead just over two minutes later when a Dougie Hamilton turnover — which was helped along, according to Brind’Amour, by a missed icing and a possible hook by Nikita Kucherov — wound up on Lightning captain Steven Stamkos’ stick for a quick shot and a 2-0 lead.
“We gave them everything they got to start the game,” Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin said. “The first two goals, we gave them. It’s just not something we can afford to do.”
The Lightning dominated the second period, and their top line turned a prolonged shift in the Carolina end into a three-goal lead, with Brayden Point scoring his 17th goal of the season at 5:19.
It wasn’t until the third, with the Lightning comfortably ahead and willing to sit on their lead, that the Hurricanes solved Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (28 saves).
Slavin carried the puck up the right boards and into the Lightning zone, and he found Andrei Svechnikov on the far side with a perfect pass that the 19-year-old ripped short side to make it 3-1 with 8:12 remaining.
“It’s a great pass from Jaccob,” Svechnikov said of his 18th goal of the season. “So I knew it was going to come through the sticks and I just tried to stay on top of it.”
Tampa Bay’s Patrick Maroon was called for a double-minor — holding and then unsportsmanlike conduct — with 2:26 left in the game, but Carolina couldn’t find the back of the net even with Mrazek on the bench for a sixth attacker.
It marked the second straight loss for Carolina, which is 2-2 through four games of its season-long seven-game home stand. Next up is a Tuesday matchup with the Flyers at PNC Arena.
“It’s all about us. We should go and come out and be ready for the game,” Svechnikov said. “Not like today. That’s all about us.”
Notes: Hamilton was on the ice for all three Lightning goals and finished minus-3, just the second time since his trade to Carolina he was been minus-3 or worse. He was minus-4 against Toronto last season on Dec. 11, 2018. … Trevor van Riemsdyk was a healthy scratch and Haydn Fleury played 13:19 — the most he’s played since Nov. 29. … Jordan Staal won 12 of 16 faceoffs.