Lightning beat Red Wings 5-3, keep pace in playoff race

Able to dress just 17 skaters and without Nikita Kucherov, the Tampa Bay Lightning held off the Detroit Red Wings to remain three points behind Boston in the pursuit of a berth in the postseason.

The Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Detroit Red Wings 5-3 at Amalie Arena in Tampa Thursday night.

A lineup depleted by injuries and illness has been the consistent theme throughout the entire season for the Lightning.

“Eventually you need secondary scoring. Somebody’s going to lead your team in scoring. Somebody’s going to be second. Somebody’s going to be third. That’s just how it works. But when you’re missing those guys, the goals have got to come from somewhere. For Brownie (J.T. Brown) to get the first one, especially when we fell behind, it was big to get that to bring it back to even. To get one from Shu (Andrej Sustr), to get one from Yanni Gourde. Killer (Alex Killorn) hadn’t been on for a while. It was just a team effort, that one. Everybody contributed in every way and when we needed the saves, Vasy (Andrei Vasilevskiy) was there to make them. The power plays get shuffled around a little bit. We won that war. I know they got one, but we ended up getting two on that one. Other than that, everyone was just committed, but it’s been like that for weeks now. It’s been great.” - Lightning head coach Jon Cooper

Thursday night, that theme was prevalent yet again as they found themselves without the services of a red-hot Nikita Kucherov, a relatively late game-day scratch due to an illness.

“Clearly it’s a little bit of a shock to the system, especially with all the guys that we have out right now. To find out an hour and a half before the game, or whatever it was, that he wasn’t going to be able to go. The guys took it as a challenge. How many times Kuch has bailed us out of games and been the guy for us? Well, now let’s be the guy for Kuch. I love the sport of hockey because it’s not a one man show, ever. Everybody’s got to contribute. But when you lose somebody as valuable to our team as Nikita, failure’s not an option. You’ve got to step up for him. I thought everybody did tonight.” - Cooper

In spite of the absence of unarguably their best player, with just 17 skaters (11 forwards, six defensemen), they won their fourth straight game and kept pace with the Boston Bruins who currently hold the eighth and final slot in the Eastern Conference with a three-point lead.

Detroit, recently eliminated from contention, ending a streak of 25 consecutive seasons making the playoffs, got on the board first when Frans Nielsen scored at 4:22 of the first on an assist from Darren Helm.

Late in the period, J.T. Brown tied things up at 18:58, his third goal of the season, first goal since November 14 and first against any other team than the New York Islanders this year,  with help from Gabriel Dumont.

The teams went into the first intermission tied at one.

Andrej Sustr gave the Lightning their first lead at 2:22, scoring on an assist  by Ondrej Palat.

Danny DeKeyser tied things up again at 12:46. He was assisted on the play by Tomas Tatar and Henrik Zetterberg.

The Lightning would regain the lead for the final time when Alex Killorn scored an unassisted power play goal at 16:13.

Jonathan Drouin gave the Lightning some breathing room, converting another power play just under two minutes later at 18:04. He got helpers from Victor Hedman and Brayden Point and the Lightning led 4-2 heading into the final period.

It’s the 16th time this season the Lightning have scored multiple power play goals in a game.

Hedman’s assist was his 66th point of the season, which breaks the team record for points in a season by a defenseman, previously held by Roman Hamrlik.

Yanni Gourde, the overtime hero of Monday’s thriller against Chicago stretched the lead to three goals, scoring at 6:03 of the third with assistance coming from Palat and Sustr.

Detroit’s Mike Green would finish off the scoring for the night, scoring on the power play at 8:18 on assists from Nielsen and Dylan Larkin.

The Lightning swept the season series (5-0) from Detroit for the first time in franchise history.

“We just keep fighting. We’re missing some guys and some people have to step up more than others. At the end of the day, we came out with the two points and that’s what’s most important.” - Brown

The Lightning will host the Montreal Canadiens Saturday night.