TAMPA — You look at the lineup the Lightning put out Thursday night, and it had a preseason feel to it.
With six of the 12 regular forwards out due to injuries or illness, several callups from AHL Syracuse had to step in against the Blues. It got to the point where defenseman Nikita Nesterov played wing (and was outstanding). And when the Lightning fell behind by two goals in the first period, the game had loss written all over it.
But Tampa Bay found a way to win, getting a come-from-behind 5-2 victory before an announced crowd of 19,092 at Amalie Arena that could be a galvanizing moment as midseason nears. It was the first time since its four-game winning streak Nov. 14-19 that the Lightning had won two games in a row. And considering the circumstances, this might have been its most impressive win of the season.
"I'm really, really proud of the way we battled back," coach Jon Cooper said. "Because the game could have gone the other way quick."
Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made 21 saves in his first start since beginning his stint as the No. 1, with Ben Bishop out three to four weeks with a lower-body injury suffered Tuesday against the Red Wings. The Blues' goals, coming 32 seconds apart late in the first period, weren't Vasilevskiy's fault. The first, by wing David Perron, came off a rare turnover by rookie center Brayden Point in the defensive zone. The second came 32 seconds later, center Wayne Megan scoring his first NHL goal in his debut, a rebound off a rush.
"We tried to skill the game," Cooper said.
But the Lightning (17-14-3) turned it around in the second period by simplifying its game and going to the net.
Veteran Brian Boyle, who has stepped up big time the past two weeks, showed why he's the team's newest power-play weapon. His tip of a Victor Hedman shot midway through the second cut the Blues' lead to 2-1. It was Boyle's fourth goal in the past eight days.
Then, five minutes later, wing Michael Bournival — called up Thursday from AHL Syracuse — put in a redirection to tie the score. It marked a great comeback for Bournival, who struggled with concussions the past year and a half. Bournival, who played Wednesday for the Crunch, said he didn't sleep that night and arrived in Tampa at 2 p.m. before scoring his first NHL goal since February 2015.
"We saw the relief on his face," Cooper said.
In the third, Alex Killorn capped off the comeback with a wrist shot six minutes in. And the Lightning didn't let up, continuing to put pressure on the Blues. Jonathan Drouin put St. Louis away with two goals in the game's last 1:40, including an empty-netter, his seventh goal in as many games.
"When a team is emotionally invested, we can be pretty good," Cooper said. "It doesn't matter who is in there."
Cooper believes the Lightning has worked its way out of its slump since its loss in St. Louis on Dec. 1. Tampa Bay has points in four of the past five games, staying within two points of third place in the Atlantic Division.
"We're trending upwards, but that doesn't mean a lot," Boyle said. "We still have a lot of ground to make up. We've got to go on a run."
This might have been a start.
First Period—1, St. Louis, Perron 9, 14:11. 2, St. Louis, Megan 1 (Reaves, Edmundson), 14:43. Penalties—Fabbri, STL, (hooking), 4:30.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Boyle 8 (Drouin, Hedman), 9:48 (pp). 4, Tampa Bay, Bournival 1 (Brown, Garrison), 17:27. Penalties—Richard, TB, (hooking), 2:39; Filppula, TB, (hooking), 4:32; Fabbri, STL, (unsportsmanlike conduct), 4:32; Reaves, STL, (interference), 9:00.
Third Period—5, Tampa Bay, Killorn 11 (Stralman, Hedman), 5:25. 6, Tampa Bay, Drouin 9 (Filppula, Stralman), 18:20. 7, Tampa Bay, Drouin 10 (Filppula, Hedman), 19:29. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—St. Louis 10-4-9—23. Tampa Bay 12-9-11—32. Power-play opportunities—St. Louis 0 of 1; Tampa Bay 1 of 2. Goalies—St. Louis, Allen 16-8-3 (31 shots-27 saves), Hutton 2-4-2 (0-0). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 8-4-1 (23-21).