When looking at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s recent string of overtime games, it’s easy to look at it one of two ways: The Bolts are trying to get the extra hockey out of their system before the playoffs begin, or they’re giving their fans an extended preview of what’s to come in the postseason.
On Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers, the Lightning took part in their franchise-record sixth consecutive game that has gone to at least overtime. And while they picked up the win, they probably caused their fans some extra heartburn after blowing a two-goal lead in the third period.
Brayden Point’s spectacular game-winner at the 2:49 mark of 3-on-3 overtime gave the Lightning (46-17-4, 96 points, most in the league) a 5-4 win against the in-state rival Panthers (32-25-7, 71 points) at Amalie Arena. For much of the night, Point’s line with Yanni Gourde and J.T. Miller proved to be an absolute pain for the Panthers to handle, as Gourde scored two goals and an assist while Miller notched a goal and a pair of assists. Alex Killorn scored the other goal for the Bolts, while Andrei Vasilevskiy made 45 saves. Tampa Bay is now 5-0-1 in its last six games, all in overtime, and 7-0-1 in its last eight overall while sitting six points ahead of second-place Boston.
The Panthers gained a point in their push for a playoff spot, but this loss, combined with the Columbus Blue Jackets’ 4-1 win over Vegas, leaves the Cats two points behind the Jackets for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Florida saw its six-game winning streak end tonight after entering this game having won 13 of its previous 16. Roberto Luongo finished with 28 saves on 33 shots, while Nick Bjugstad scored the first hat trick of his NHL career in the defeat.
The opening period followed a familiar script for the Lightning: A couple of timely goals and a whole lot of Vasilevskiy.
Both teams had their share of chances in the early going, but Florida started out playing like a team desperately fighting for a playoff spot. Evgenii Dadonov found Bjugstad on a 2-on-1, but Vasilevskiy was there to slam the door shut. A Cory Conacher turnover led to a chance for Jared McCann, whose shot was also denied by the Lightning netminder. Later on in the period, Vasilevskiy made back-to-back outstanding saves on Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov. Tampa Bay’s best chance in the first half of the period came when Point made a brilliant feed to Miller, who cut in alone, only to have Luongo make a save with his glove.
The Lighting’s aggressive forecheck, led by the line of Gourde-Point-Miller, rewarded them with a 1-0 lead. Andrej Sustr took a shot that missed high and bounced off the glass behind the Florida goal. Point went behind the net to retrieve the puck, only to see it bounce back to Gourde, who was stationed at the side of the net. He easily put the shot past Luongo for his 23rd goal and a 1-0 Lightning lead at the 10:38 mark.
The Gourde-Point-Miller trio continued to do tremendous work, leading to a 2-0 Lightning lead.
Gourde’s ferocious forechecking led to the Panthers turning it over by their net. Gourde dished the puck to Miller, who cut in and roofed a backhander past Luongo for his 15th of the season and second as a Bolt. The Lightning nearly made it 3-0 when Ryan Callahan pounced on another Florida turnover. However, he had no room to actually get a shot off. Moments later, he rocked Ekblad with a huge hit that brought a roar from the crowd.
Although the Lightning possessed a 2-0 lead at the 12:51 mark, the Panthers refused to go away, firing pucks at Vasilevskiy to no avail. However, they were not to be denied with 1:37 remaining. Bjugstad got the puck behind the goal line at a sharp angle, where he fired a high shot that found an incredibly tiny opening and got past Vasilevskiy top shelf, cutting Tampa Bay’s lead to 2-1 at the intermission. Florida held an 18-9 advantage in shots on goal.
As the second period began, Gourde and his linemates picked up where they left off
It only took 1:33 for Gourde to notch his 24th goal of the season, tying Tyler Johnson’s franchise rookie record. This time, it was Miller’s work that led to the goal. Miller forechecked behind the Panthers’ net, leading to a turnover as Gourde gathered the puck. He wheeled around to the right circle and zipped a blistering shot past Luongo that extended Tampa Bay’s lead to 3-1 with Miller obtaining the assist.
However, the Panthers didn’t seem to let that phase them, as they continued to press throughout the remainder of the period. During an extended stay inside the Tampa Bay zone, Bjugstad notched his second of the night and 13th of the season, jamming a puck past Vasilevskiy from the side of the net and cutting the Bolts’ lead to 3-2 with 6:25 remaining.
Tampa Bay’s top line of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamos, and Killorn, who had a few solid chances earlier in the contest, were finally rewarded with a goal with 3:53 to go in the period. Kucherov worked deep in the Florida zone to get the puck free, where he dished it back to the right circle. Stamkos stepped into a blistering one-timer, only to see Luongo make the save. Killorn fought his way to the net to pick up the rebound, depositing it into the back of the net for his 13th goal of the campaign and a 4-2 Lightning lead.
Despite owning a two-goal advantage heading into the third period, the Lightning saw that lead slip away in a matter of minutes.
Just 21 seconds into the third, Bjugstad completed the hat trick when he knocked home a rebound of a Keith Yandle shot, pulling the Panthers to within a goal. A few minutes later, Andrej Sustr was called for tripping, giving Florida a power play. At the 5:25 mark, Vincent Trocheck fired a shot past Vasilevskiy, tying the game 4-4 with his 25th of the season. The Lightning’s disturbing habit of being unable to successfully clear the puck while killing penalties proved problematic in the moments before Trocheck scored.
Both teams found themselves with golden opportunities to score late in regulation, with Jonathan Huberdeau getting robbed on the doorstep by Vasilevskiy. Soon after, Gourde nearly had a hat trick of his own, but he was robbed by Luongo when he couldn’t elevate the puck over the Panthers’ goalie.
In his brief NHL career, Point has proven to be a clutch player, and he did it again tonight.
Taking the ice with Tyler Johnson and Anton Stralman in overtime, Point would begin to work his magic. Stralman stole a pass and kept it in the Panthers’ zone. He dished it over to Point in the right circle, and Point hit Stralman with a perfect return pass. With an open net, Stralman rang one off the outside of the post, but was able to retrieve the puck, working it back to Point in the right circle. Point made a gorgeous toe drag move around Dadonov and then roofed a beauty of a shot past Luongo for the game-winning goal, sending the crowd at Amalie Arena into a frenzy.
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) March 7, 2018
The Lightning will continue their eight-game homestand when they host the New York Rangers on Thursday night. Opening faceoff is set for 7:30 pm.
-The game-winning goal was Point’s 10th of the season, two shy of Stamkos’s 12 game-winners in 2011-12. Point also has four 3-on-3 overtime goals this season.
-While the six consecutive overtime games is a Lightning record, the Elias Sports Bureau confirmed the record is seven, held by Edmonton in 2003-04 and Toronto in 2008-09.
-In addition to tying Johnson’s team record for most goals by a rookie, Gourde passed him on the franchise’s all-time list for most points by a rookie. Gourde has 53 points, the third-most rookie points in Bolts history. Only Ondrej Palat (59 in 2013-14) and Brad Richards (62 in 2000-01) have more points in a Lightning uniform in their first NHL season.
Three Stars of the Game
1st Star: Yanni Gourde – Two goals and one assist.
2nd Star: Nick Bjugstad – First hat trick of his NHL career.
3rd Star: Brayden Point – Fourth OT goal of the season and 10th game-winner overall.
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