Carolina Hurricanes goalie Manny Legace (34) hits the puck away from Tampa Bay Lightning\'s Ryan Malone (12) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Karl B DeBlaker)
RALEIGH, N.C. - There haven't been too many choices for the Carolina Hurricanes' best overall game of the season.
The way Carolina's players and coaches talked after their 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, the team's most recent effort would be the unanimous pick.
Jussi Jokinen scored the winner, and Tuomo Ruutu and Chad LaRose had goals to give Carolina its third win in its last four games. Manny Legace made 20 saves for the Hurricanes, who have earned points in their last five.
"I think this is the closest we've played to 60 minutes all year," Jokinen said.
It was the first time in 15 games Carolina hadn't allowed at least three goals.
"It was just beautiful to watch," Legace said about the Hurricanes' defensive effort. "I had a good front-row seat tonight."
Martin St. Louis scored for the Lightning, and Mike Smith made 24 saves. Tampa Bay entered the game 4-0-3 in its previous seven.
"I am a little disappointed in some of the top guys," Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet said. "I think Martin St. Louis played well, but some of our other top guys just didn't show up tonight."
The winner came late in the second period when Jokinen, stationed in front of the net, tipped Joe Corvo's slow-moving shot through Smith's legs.
The Hurricanes had tied the score on the power play earlier in the period when Joni Pitkanen made a nice play to keep the puck in at the blue-line. Pitkanen then fed Ray Whitney, who sent a perfect cross-ice pass to Ruutu. Ruutu one-timed it past Smith's glove for his ninth point in his last six games.
Tampa Bay opened the scoring late in the first.
With Tom Kostopoulos in the penalty box, Kurtis Foster took a shot from the point that deflected off the stick of Carolina's Matt Cullen. Off-balance, Legace couldn't control the rebound, and the puck dribbled out to St. Louis, who converted from a sharp angle.
"He hit it off my butt and into the net," Legace said. "My butt's so big."
Tampa Bay, which played Thursday night in Anaheim before taking a cross-country flight Friday, couldn't muster many scoring chances the rest of the way, allowing the Hurricanes to take control.
"I don't know how good Tampa was tonight," Corvo said. "They didn't seem to have the jump they usually have."
Carolina has won eight consecutive games at home against the Lightning.
With their improved play, the Hurricanes seem to be slowly recovering from their recent 14-game winless streak.
"The mood in the room in the last week has been better, and we've been moving toward something much better," Corvo said. "Everybody's just a little more confident and feels better."
NOTES: Pitkanen returned to the lineup after missing two games because of a lower-body injury. ... St. Louis has four points in three games against Carolina this season. ... Tampa Bay left wing Ryan Malone's points streak was snapped at five games.