Bryan Little and his teammates on the Winnipeg Jets knew they needed to end their homestand on a high note.
Little had a goal and two assists as the Jets snapped a two-game losing skid with a 3-2 victory over the faltering Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday.
Winnipeg had dropped its previous two games to the Washington Capitals, getting outscored 10-1.
“It’s a game that we needed,” Little said. “It was nice to see us bounce back after those two games against Washington.
“It would have put us in a tough position if we had lost this game tonight.”
The win keeps the Jets (17-14-2) atop the NHL Southeast Division and in third in the Eastern Conference.
Next up for Winnipeg is a road trip to face the Caroline Hurricanes on Tuesday, the team that’s two points behind them in the Southeast. A game against Pittsburgh follows on Thursday. The Jets are 9-6-2 away from Manitoba.
Defencemen Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom also scored for Winnipeg, while Blake Wheeler picked up two assists.
Steven Stamkos scored his league-leading 22nd goal of the season on the power play and rookie Cory Conacher also scored for the Lightning (13-18-1), who were dealt a blow in the morning with the firing of head coach Guy Boucher.
“I’m proud of every guy in this room,” said Stamkos. “The coaching staff today a everyone did a great job of preparing us for this game and I thought it was, to be honest, one of our better games of the year.”
Assistants Martin Raymond and Dan Lacroix shared the coaching duties for Tampa.
“We kind of were in the trenches today,” said Martin St. Louis, who assisted on Stamkos’s goal. “Our coaches did really well. They got us prepared to play today.”
The Lightning ended a three-game road trip without a win.
Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec made 23 saves, while Cedric Desjardins faced 24 shots for Tampa Bay.
“It’s going to be another tough game and then we go to Pittsburgh and then home to Carolina,” Pavelec said. “Those three games are going to be huge for us.”
Little’s wrist shot over Desjardins’ glove at 14:02 of the first period gave the Jets a 1-0 lead and they stretched it to 2-0 early in the second.
Just 11 seconds after Lightning centre Tyler Johnson was called for tripping, Byfuglien curled into the middle of the left faceoff circle and blasted a low shot that went between Desjardins’ pads at 2:24. He has nine points in his last eight games.
Tampa quickly got its own power-play goal after Jets right-winger Chris Thorborn was sent off for kneeing Teddy Purcell. Seven seconds later, Stamkos one timed a high shot past Pavelec at 6:20.
Enstrom, in his first game back after missing 19 games with a shoulder injury, took a pass from Andrew Ladd directly in front of Desjardins and beat the goalie with a high shot to make it 3-1 at 9:35.
“It’s nice to stop a slide and get back in the win column,” Ladd said. “Everyone knows what’s going on and how tight the race is and we need to be winning hockey games right now.”
The Jets were missing defencemen Ron Hainsey (hand) and Mark Stuart (undisclosed), but Pavelec was happy to have Enstrom back.
“He’s been one of our best players the last few years,” said Pavelec. “Every time he’s out of the lineup, you miss a guy like that. I think he’s so smart with the puck. He’s patient, he’s confident with the puck.”
Eric Brewer’s shot from the point was deflected into the net by Conacher at 5:01 of the third to make it 3-2.
“There’s always little plays that you want to take back and guys are aware,” Lacroix said. “They come back to the bench and they know ... The guys played extremely hard.”
Notes - The Jets are 12-1-0 when leading after the second period this season ... Ladd’s assist gave him eight points in his last eight games ... It was the third of four games between the clubs this season, with Winnipeg taking a 2-1 lead in the series.