EDMONTON — For most of this season, coach Jon Cooper has quipped that the Lightning has tried to pass the puck into the net.
On Friday, it finally worked.
In a stunning comeback, the Lightning scored three third-period goals — all off Oilers players — to pick up a potentially galvanizing 3-2 win. It was Tampa Bay's first win at Rexall Place since March 2007, and wow, was it wild. Captain Steven Stamkos scored the winner with about four minutes left when his cross-crease pass went in off the Oilers' Darnell Nurse.
"We keep saying, we earn our breaks — literally, two goals off caroms," Stamkos said. "But that's the way it goes when you're doing the right things and believing in yourself. We didn't quit and got rewarded."
Stamkos had called out his team — including himself — Thursday for not having enough consistent effort this season, a reason why the defending Eastern Conference champions are still out of a playoff spot. But by blending its skill with will, like it did for a good portion of Friday's game, Tampa Bay (20-17-4) could get right back into the mix. It is now just one point out of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference (with one game in hand over eighth-place New Jersey).
"The thing that stuck out for our group was our compete," Stamkos said. "I certainly felt our group responded to the challenge from each other, coaching staff, from the organization, that we need to be better."
Said defenseman Victor Hedman: "We showed how good we can be. Everything was like normal."
Things didn't look good early, with the Oilers taking a 1-0 lead in the first period. It could have been worse had it not been for a spectacular sprawling save by Hedman, who was on his back near the crease when he deflected a shot out with his arm.
"I was a goalie when I was younger,' Hedman said, smiling. "It ended up being a pretty big play. Luck involved in that one."
The Oilers took a 2-0 lead four minutes into the second on a power-play goal. But as Tampa Bay entered the intermission, it had confidence.
"We never thought we were out of it," Cooper said.
"We talked about how good it would feel if we won," goalie Ben Bishop said. "We really wanted it."
Nikita Kucherov started the rally with a goal three minutes into the third on a shot from the point that deflected in off Oilers defenseman Brandon Davidson.
"That kind of broke the seal," Bishop said. "And we kept coming."
Then, with five minutes left, Hedman — who had three points in an outstanding game — sent a pass across to streaking Ondrej Palat, the puck bouncing off the stick of Oilers All-Star Taylor Hall.
But a third time?
Just one minute later, Stamkos attempted a cross-crease feed from near the left post to Palat, but the puck went in off Nurse, who appeared stunned. Stamkos said he didn't try to bank it in.
"It wasn't Wayne Gretzky '93 that killed the Leafs," Stamkos joked. "Just trying to get the puck to the net."
The win reaffirmed the confidence general manager Steve Yzerman showed before the game, saying his team, finally healthy at the season's midpoint, can make a run before the trade deadline Feb. 29.
"The reality is I expect us to be in the hunt for a playoff spot," Yzerman said. "We'll have to decide where we want to go at that point. Let's get everyone healthy, let's stay healthy, and let's see if we can get it going.
"I believe in this group; they're good guys. They're good players. Certainly you can't question any of their effort and competitiveness of the team. It's been a struggle. In some ways, if we can overcome it, it'll make us better and stronger."
Contact Joe Smith at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
First Period—1, Edmonton, Schultz 2 (Eberle), 15:20. Penalties—Draisaitl, Edm (hooking), 1:59; Edmonton bench, served by Pouliot (too many men), 5:09.
Second Period—2, Edmonton, Pouliot 9 (Nugent-Hopkins, Sekera), 3:38 (pp). Penalties—Kucherov, TB (tripping), 2:52; Namestnikov, TB (hooking), 5:25; Nesterov, TB (interference), 19:05.
Third Period—3, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 15 (Hedman, Johnson), 3:01. 4, Tampa Bay, Hedman 3, 14:50. 5, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 18 (Hedman, Namestnikov), 15:51. Penalties—Davidson, Edm (holding), 5:11. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 9-8-9—26. Edmonton 5-14-7—26. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 3; Edmonton 1 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Bishop 16-13-3 (26 shots-24 saves). Edmonton, Talbot 7-12-2 (26-23).