TAMPA - Karri Ramo's eyes peered skyward, locking in on a puck that was fluttering high into the air like a pop fly. And like a shortstop trying to gauge exactly where a Texas-leaguer is going to land, Ramo reached back as he hopped into the air and snared the puck with his glove.
With 0.7 seconds left on the clock by the time Ramo came back to the ice, glove in the air to showcase his work, the 21-year-old rookie goaltender secured Tampa Bay's 2-1 victory in a 38-save performance against Southeast division-leading Carolina, the Lightning's second win in the past three games, all with Ramo in net.
Jeff Halpern scored the game-winner at the 5:43 mark of the third period, his third consecutive game with a goal, while Jussi Jokinen scored his second in a Lightning uniform since coming from Dallas in a trade. Tampa Bay won for just the fifth time in 27 games when trailing after the first period.
"Guys have a lot of pride in this locker room," Halpern said. "Everyone knows where we are in the standings and what's happened, so every time you get in a game, you get an opportunity to prove yourself and prove your competitiveness. I think the guys in this room have shown a ton of resiliency and a lot of heart to come out and battle every night the way this team has over the last few weeks."
Some of that battle showed as Tampa Bay killed off seven power-play chances against a team that has been accused in the past of embellishing plays in order to draw a penalty. The Hurricanes have a league-high 401 power-play opportunities, nearly 50 more than any other team.
"I've never seen a team go down so much in my life," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "They lead the league in power plays for some reason and I've got a pretty good idea what it is. It gets to be pretty embarrassing."
And while goaltending isn't the only reason for the penalty kill success of late, the good goaltending is a team's best penalty killer and Ramo was every bit that part Saturday. In the third period Ramo stopped all 12 shots he faced, helping kill off three Carolina power-play opportunities - including one with 2:10 left in the game.
"Our PK has been tremendous the past month, so they got a power play there, but it didn't affect us," Ramo said.
Ramo also hasn't been affected by other situations going on around him the past couple of weeks as his play in the past three games has been solid. When Mike Smith went down with a mild knee sprain Monday, Ramo was thrust into the net with a third-period meltdown in Buffalo on March 19 still fresh in his mind.
But Ramo has wiped that slate clean from his mind, stopping 100 of the 106 shots (.943 save percentage) he has faced in picking up a pair of victories sandwiched around an overtime loss to Washington on Thursday. Ramo is also making a bit of a push as the team continues to evaluate how the goaltending situation might shake down next season. Tortorella has expressed in the past few days a belief that Ramo might be better served playing 60-plus games in the minors next season to gain experience.
The two have met on the subject in recent days, with Tortorella discussing his reasoning behind his recent public comments. Perhaps Ramo still has time to tweak Tortorella's thinking about next season.
"If I can come to training camp next season and show him that I'm ready to be here, I just have to go out and play," Ramo said.
Lately he has spoken loud and clear with his actions.