While there were no fisticuffs thrown at Amalie Arena on Friday night, the fans watching the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins probably couldn’t help but think that they were watching two heavyweight fighters throwing haymakers and coming back for more. In the end, it was the red-hot Vlad Namestnikov who knocked the Penguins down for the count.
Namestnikov’s goal 2:11 into 3-on-3 overtime capped off the first hat trick of his NHL career and gave the Lightning a 5-4 victory in a wild, back-and-forth affair that saw Tampa Bay blow a 3-1 lead in the third period and fall behind only to tie it late in the third period on a goal by Anton Stralman. Namestnikov’s winner came off a rebound of a shot by Nikita Kucherov, who barely kept the puck in the zone. The NHL’s war room in Toronto even called in to review the goal themselves before ruling that it would stand. Namestnikov, who now has nine goals this season, has a four-game point streak, and this was the third straight contest in which he’s picked up multiple points.
“To get the overtime winner, it’s something special,” said Namestnikov after the game. “There’s no quit in this team. We knew we could come back and that’s what we did.”
The Lightning came out firing on all cylinders in the opening five minutes of the first period, outshooting the Penguins 5-0 early on and taking a 1-0 lead on Namestnikov’s first goal of the contest just 1:51 in, taking a pass from Steven Stamkos in the neutral zone in stride and streaking down the right wing before firing a laser of a shot over the glove of Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. However, that early stretch would be the extent of the Lightning’s best play at 5-on-5, as Pittsburgh was able to keep the Lightning back on their heels, winning faceoffs, maintaining puck possession, and forcing turnovers. The Penguins would tie the game on a bit of a soft goal by Kris Letang that squeezed through Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy while he was screened.
During the second period, the Penguins tested Vasilevskiy a few times early on, but he was up to the task, finishing with 36 saves on 40 on the night. At the 7:45 mark of the period, momentum began to swing back in the Lightning’s favor, as the Penguins proceeded to march to the penalty box in a very similar fashion to what the Columbus Blue Jackets did in Amalie Arena a couple of weeks ago. Back-to-back hooking penalties on Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr gave the Lightning an extended 5-on-3 power play, and the Bolts made them pay for it, taking the lead on Valtteri Filppula’s sixth goal of the season. Filppula completed a fantastic passing sequence that began with Kucherov dishing it back to Stamkos at the point. Stamkos immediately fed it at the side of the crease to Tyler Johnson, who fed it across the crease to Filppula to put the Bolts up 2-1. At the 8:54 mark, Cullen went back to the penalty box again, this time for cross checking. Even though the Lightning couldn’t finish the 5-on-3, they were able to connect on the regular man-advantage, as Victor Hedman’s shot from the point was tipped in by Namestnikov at the 10:47 mark, giving the Lightning a 3-1 lead and putting them in control of the scoreboard despite not getting much going at even strength. Filppula picked up the secondary assist on the goal. Meanwhile, the Penguins had some excellent looks on earlier power play chances and were finally able to get a goal on the man-advantage when Patric Hornqvist was left alone in front, converting a pass from Evgeni Malkin behind the net and beating Vasilevskiy between the legs to cut the Lightning’s lead to 3-2, where the score would remain heading into the final period.
Pittsburgh continued to chip away, spending a ton of time in the Lighting zone and controlling play, pouncing on numerous miscues and turnovers in the Lightning end to create several scoring chances. At the 10:13 mark of the third period, the Penguins tied it up after Nikita Nesterov pinched up in the offensive zone, leading to a 2-on-1. Vasilevskiy made the save, but lost his stick in the process. Left without his stick, Trevor Daley took advantage, blasting a one-timer from the right circle to make it 3-3. The Lightning continued to play back on their heels, unable to maintain much time in Pittsburgh’s zone because of their inability to win faceoffs and keep control of the puck. Their play at 5-on-5 had been abysmal for much of the night. They would fall behind 4-3 with 6:12 left when Chris Kunitz’s shot just squeezed into the top far corner of the net, leaving the Lightning faithful stunned and wondering what had happened to the group that had built up a 3-1 lead. However, it was Anton Stralman who brought the house down with a beautiful spin-o-rama backhand goal from the right circle that beat Fleury top shelf, tying the game 4-4 with 4:39 remaining, sending the Lightning fans at Amalie Arena into a frenzy.
Pittsburgh held a 37-23 edge in shots on goal at the end of regulation, and both teams had good looks at the net in OT. Thankfully for the Lightning, it was Namestnikov who came to the rescue, clinching the game with the hat trick, extending the Lightning’s winning streak to four games, and putting them in third place in the Atlantic Division with 50 points, one ahead of the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins. Tampa Bay returns to action on Sunday evening when they host the Florida Panthers at 5 pm at Amalie Arena.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star – Vlad Namestnikov: Picked up his first NHL hat trick, including the winning goal in overtime.
2nd Star – Valtteri Filppula: Scored a 5-on-3 power play goal and tacked on a pair of assists
3rd Star – Patric Hornqvist: His second period power play gave the Penguins life and started their rally from a 3-1 deficit. Also added two assists.
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