TAMPA—Yanni Gourde's reaction was primal. He threw his head back and screamed, gave a bit of a fist pump and hit the glass. This was no orchestrated "celly;" it was pure emotion.
"It's been a while since I scored a goal," Gourde said after Saturday's 6-3 win over San Jose. "I obviously had a few chances throughout the last few games and they weren't going in for me but it was really good to finally get that goal."
To be specific, Gourde hadn't scored in nine games, and this was only his second of the last 20. A big change from his 10 goals in the first 18 games of the season.
His second-period goal broke the 2-2 tie and it came from his favorite area right around the net. Steven Stamkos' shot sailed wide and Gourde "one-timed" the rebound off the wall. It was a tough angle, not far off the goal line, but he found a hole. And he did that as he dove/fell forward.
That goal was the difference between chasing the game, which the Lightning has done recently, and protecting a lead, as Tampa Bay added to its margin enough that one more San Jose goal late didn't matter.
"You can tell it's been wearing on him a little bit," coach Jon Cooper said. "Guys were really happy on the bench."
Gourde may not have been scoring recently, but he's found other ways to contribute. At the beginning of the season, back when he was scoring a lot, Gourde said he takes pride in winning puck battles and digging the puck out of corners.
Stamkos praised him for exactly that Saturday night, specifically the "tenacity he has on the puck." Gourde creates space, which then allows Ondrej Palat and Stamkos to find seams.
"I try to create turnovers," Gourde said. "I try to create chances for my linemates and for myself, too, and I think like I said when the goals aren't going in the confidence lowers and it's harder on yourself but you try to keep your focus on the prize which is playing hard and playing the right way."
Cooper trusts Gourde in a lot of situations, whether or not he is scoring. Gourde plays on the top line with Stamkos (though Cooper doesn't like identifying a top line), he plays point on the second power play, and has a big role on the penalty kill. Only defenseman Ryan McDonagh and center Anthony Cirelli had more time shorthanded Saturday. Not a lot of the team plays on both units.
Early on in the season, Gourde critiqued his play after a game in which he had a goal and an assist. He didn't think he played well enough. Sure he recorded two points, but he hadn't felt involved enough outside of that.
Recently, that hasn't been the case. Now, Gourde likes his play with the puck, away from the net. Goals or not, Gourde has been productive for the Lightning and has been rewarded with the ice time to show for his play.
"Sometimes you have to reel these guys in a little bit and say hey, 'don't worry if you're not pointing all the times, you're doing so many other good things for us' and that's what he does," Cooper said.