The Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime at Amalie Arena in Tampa Monday night.
For those who have already declared this season a historic disappointment and that the remaining games lost any kind of significant meaning a month ago, the effort put forth by the Tampa Bay Lightning in tonight’s game must be confusing.
"I don't know if it is a good thing when you're down to win but look at that Boston game, they scored three times in a row. We don't get down on ourselves, we just get going and keep playing our game and it goes both ways. I liked the way we were 4-1 down, in a huge game like this and we answered the right way.” - Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin
“It’s hard to explain. This has happened to us in past years when we really got injured. I think there’s a group of players that have come up here that have, they’re just playing not to let anybody down. They’re playing with ‘We belong here.’ They’re playing with ‘We’re a part of this organization.’ They’re playing with everything that says team. Then you get the guys that have been here before. Your best players got to be your best players. From Kuch to Point to Palat to Drouin to Killer. I go down the list. Hedman, Stralman, all the guys. They’ve elevated their game. We have a group of guys that’ve come in and said ‘Hey we’re not looking to let you guys down. You guys do what you do and we won’t let you down.’ Then, ultimately, we’ve been getting goaltending. When we need the big save, we got the big save. The big save came tonight when Patrick Kane pretty much clawed his way to a breakaway and Vasy made that backdoor save. In my head I’m thinking, ‘Remember that one.’ Ultimately we needed it because the game went to overtime.” - Lightning head coach Jon Cooper
The Lightning didn’t play poorly or lack for effort in the opening period, but made some mistakes and the Blackhawks made them pay.
They opened the scoring early, at 1:23 when a shot from Artemi Panarin was slowed down by Andrei Vasilevskiy and seemed to take five minutes to eventually crawl across the goal line. Tanner Kero picked up the lone assist.
The Lightning tied the game at 9:29 on the power play when Ondrej Palat deflected a shot from Victor Hedman, with Nikita Kucherov contributing the secondary assist.
Less than a minute later, Chicago regained the lead when Patrick Kane scored on assists from Niklas Hjalmarsson and Duncan Keith at 10:17
They padded that lead at 13:41 with Tomas Jurco swatting in a rebound. Nick Schmaltz was credited with an assist on the play.
At that point, Vasilevskiy was relieved, having allowed three goals on eight shots. He was replaced by Peter Budaj who would stop all three of the shots he would face in the remaining 6:19 of the period, which ended with Chicago up 3-1.
Vasilevskiy was back in net when play resumed to start the second.
“The faith we have in Vasilevskiy is unwavering. At the time of the game, for me, it was a ‘Let’s slow this game down. I know we’re down 3-1, but there’s a lot of time left. We don’t want this one to get out of hand.’ Not that we’re sitting here saying it was Vasilevskiy’s doing, but let’s get him out. Let’s take a breath. Buds came in, shut the door the rest of the way. The whole time at the end of the first period in my head I was thinking, ‘I’m going to put that kid back in.’ Some points as a coach you’re going with your gut and the feeling I have that we’re going to win this game. Vasilevskiy’s going to win this game for us. He just had to take a six minute break. He was outstanding after that.” - Cooper
"It shows what type of head sits on his shoulders. He is very competitive and he takes every goal like it's the end of the world, but he always fights through and he showed a lot of character tonight coming back and helped us in every possible way, especially in that third period.” - Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman
The Blackhawks scored again at 8:47, with Richard Panik scoring on helpers from Trevor Van Riemsdyk and Schmaltz, and it appeared a rout was underway.
Then things changed.
Just under three minutes later at 11:45, Jonathan Drouin halved the lead with his first goal of the night, assisted by Alex Killorn and Anton Stralman.
And just over two minutes after that, Stralman cut the margin to a single goal, thanks to help from Greg McKegg and Palat.
They would tie the game at 16:24 on the power play, with Drouin scoring his second goal of the game and 20th of the season. He was assisted by Victor Hedman and Kucherov on the play.
With the Lightning owning the second period, it ended with the teams tied at four.
That’s the way it would stay until the end of regulation, necessitating nearly all five minutes of the 3-on-3 overtime.
With just :35 remaining in the extra period, Hedman fed Yanni Gourde who broke in and snapped the game winner past Chicago goalie Scott Darling.
“I knew the guy was closing in pretty quick so I was trying to take a shot to make sure I get a shot on net on that play. I shot low glove and I think it slid through his elbow. I don’t know. It’s a pretty amazing feeling.” - Gourde
With the win, coupled with the New York Islanders 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators, the Lightning move to 9th place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the Boston Bruins for the final playoff spot. With losses by the Carolina Hurricanes (4-3 to the Detroit Red Wings in overtime) and Florida Panthers (4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres in regulation), they put some distance between their top two pursuers.
“It’s not going to mean anything unless we get ourselves in (the playoffs). This was just another step. It’s a really exciting one, but just like we had to regroup after the Arizona game, we have to regroup after the Chicago game. We got the two we came for, now it’s all about Detroit.” - Cooper
That Detroit game is Thursday night at Amalie Arena.