(SportsNetwork.com) - The Tampa Bay Lightning turned to a 20-year-old rookie in net to avoid starting their road trip with three straight losses.
The Lightning now look to even up their record on this swing Friday night as they visit the struggling New Jersey Devils.
Tampa Bay began a five-game trip with losses in Washington and Pittsburgh. The Bolts also saw starting netminder Ben Bishop exit Monday's loss to the Penguins with a lower-body injury, causing backup Evgeni Nabokov to play just over 37 minutes of relief.
With the Lightning back in action the next night, they opted to recall 20- year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy from Syracuse of the American Hockey League and Jon Cooper quickly gave him his first career start that night versus the Philadelphia Flyers.
It was a successful debut for Vasilevskiy, the 19th overall pick of the 2012 draft, as he made 23 saves in a 3-1 victory.
"It was one of those things coming in. We've been going through a little bit of a tough stretch here," said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. "We played him because he's a talented kid, but we thought he might be able to give us a spark and clearly he did."
Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and Valtteri Filppula lit the lamp for the Bolts, while Ryan Callahan added two assists. The win has Tampa Bay a point ahead of both Detroit and Montreal for first place in the Atlantic Division.
Though Bishop's injury isn't believed to be serious, it appears unlikely he will play tonight or in Saturday's finale of this road trip versus the New York Islanders. Cooper could decide to give both Vasilevskiy and Nabokov a start over the two-day span, though it is unknown who will go versus the Devils.
Nabokov is 6-11-0 with a 3.03 goals against average and .887 save percentage in 17 career meetings with the Devils.
Forward Ondrej Palat and defenseman Radko Gudas could both be back in the lineup tonight for the Lightning as well. Palat has missed four straight due to a lower-body injury, while a stomach virus has held Gudas out of the past three games.
However, Johnson was unable to practice on Thursday due to illness, perhaps the only thing that can slow him down right now. He has 12 points in his last 11 games with 10 goals and 33 points in 33 games this season.
The Devils hope to get their offense going tonight as they have lost a season high-tying five in a row (0-3-2) and were shut out for the third time in 12 games with Wednesday's 2-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators.
The Devils outshot the Sens 34-16, but Cory Schneider made just 14 saves and Ottawa's Craig Anderson posted his third shutout of the season.
"I don't think we played a bad game," Devils defenseman Eric Gelinas said. "We dominated the entire game. I think we played well. They got an early power- play goal and that was the game-winner right there. It's just a matter of scoring."
The Devils suffered a loss in the opener of a four-game homestand, one that resumes on Saturday versus Washington. Schneider and Keith Kinkaid could split the two starts.
Schneider is 2-0-1 with a 3.23 GAA and .877 save percentage in three outings versus the Bolts, while Kinkaid made his NHL debut and lone appearance of last season versus Tampa Bay on March 5. He gave up a goal on 13 shots in 26 minutes of relief.
Though New Jersey saw forward Patrik Elias return on Wednesday from a groin injury that forced him to miss the previous five games, the Devils announced on Thursday that rookie defenseman Damon Severson is expected to be out 4-to-5 weeks with a hairline fracture in his ankle.
Severson was a last-minute scratch versus the Senators and has 12 points in 32 games.
However, the Devils may get Adam Larsson back into the lineup. The blueliner has not played since Dec. 2 due to the mumps, but is over the illness.
New Jersey won the first of three meetings with Tampa Bay this season, picking up a 2-1 road win on Oct. 14. It was the Devils' third victory in the past four meetings.
Schneider made 26 saves, while Nabokov posted 23 stops in his Lightning debut.
The Devils have won 11 of their last 14 at home versus the Bolts.