SAN JOSE – After missing his first game of the season, Logan Couture returned to the lineup to score the game-winning goal as the Sharks downed the Lightning at SAP Center, 2-1, on Thursday night.
Couture, who was too sick to play against the Kings on Wednesday, got his 15th of the season early in the third period to break a 1-1 tie. Linemate Kevin Labanc fished a puck out from along the end wall, while Couture got just enough of the puck to squeeze it through Andrei Vasilevskiy just 22 seconds into the final frame.
Backup goalie Aaron Dell made 24 saves, as the scuffling Lightning were held to two or fewer goals for the seventh time in their last eight games.
In the third period, Dell stopped Ondrej Palat with about 13 minutes left, getting his right pad on the Tampa Bay forward’s attempt from between the circles. He stretched to deny Valtteri Filppula’s wraparound try with less than seven minutes to go, preserving the Sharks’ slim lead.
The Sharks improved to 5-2-0 in their last seven games, and swept the two-game season series with the Lightning. San Jose is 16-6-0 overall against teams from the Eastern Conference.
After a dull first period, the pace picked up in the second as the teams traded scores.
Ryan Carpenter put San Jose ahead at 5:01, as his slap shot from the circle directed in off of Nikita Nesterov’s leg for his second career NHL score. The rookie was recalled on Tuesday after a brief stint with the Sharks in November, and was playing in just his fifth game this season.
Tampa Bay responded with a gorgeous power play score by Jonathan Drouin less than two minutes later. The 21-year-old took the puck from the neutral zone and charged ahead, going right around a flat-footed Marc-Edouard Vlasic and slipping it past Dell at 6:51.
Along with Couture’s return, Joonas Donskoi also played after missing the previous three games with an upper body injury.
The Sharks won the only other game between the two teams on Nov. 12 in Tampa Bay, 3-1.
San Jose improved to 5-3-0 in the second of back-to-backs.
The Sharks had just one power play midway through the third period, and did not score.
The Lightning brought the NHL’s fourth-ranked power play into the game, although they hadn’t scored in their previous three games. They finished 1-for-3.
Dell was starting for the second time in nine days, the shortest length time off he’s had between games this season. He improved to 5-2-0 in his first NHL season, and has allowed two or fewer goals in five of his seven starts.
Vasilevskiy fell to 10-11-2 on the season, allowing two Sharks goals on 24 shots.
Rookie Timo Meier was scratched for the first time since he was recalled in mid-December, dealing with what the team called a minor upper body injury. Micheal Haley was surprisingly placed on injured reserve before the game with an lower body injury. Mikkel Boedker was benched for the third period.
Tampa Bay remains without Steven Stamkos, who has been out since mid-November with a torn miniscus, while top defenseman Victor Hedman missed his third straight due to illness.
A pair of games against the putrid Avalanche, who are buried in last place in the Central Division and are the worst team in the NHL, is up next for San Jose. Saturday marks the SAP Center return of Matt Nieto, who was claimed off of waivers from the Sharks on Jan. 5.
The Sharks visit Pepsi Center on Monday for the second of the home-and-home, are in Winnipeg on Tuesday, and play their final game before the All-Star break at home next Thursday against Edmonton.