TAMPA — The biggest goal of Braydon Coburn's life didn't exactly go in as planned.
The veteran defenseman, acquired from the Flyers at the trade deadline, attempted a one-timer from the right circle early in the third period of Wednesday's thrilling Game 7 with Detroit. He watched the puck flutter — a "knuckleball," he called it — before soaring over the right shoulder of Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek to break a scoreless tie. Sold-out Amalie Arena exploded.
"Special," Coburn said. "One I'll definitely always remember."
Many in Tampa Bay will, too. In a wild, unpredictable first-round playoff series, it was a fitting winner in a 2-0 victory by Tampa Bay, which wrapped up a comeback from a three-games-to-two deficit in the series.
"When that goal went in, I looked up and said, 'Oh what a (great) trade,"' coach Jon Cooper said.
The Lightning moves on to the Eastern Conference semifinals for a much-anticipated rematch with the Canadiens, who swept it out of last year's playoffs in the first round in six days.
"We talked about last year and how maybe we weren't ready, we were young and inexperienced," captain Steven Stamkos said. "We had to prove to ourselves. We had the mentality that we wanted to win."
Said Cooper: "We dipped our toes in the water last year. This year we get to jump in the pool."
Stamkos had zero goals in this series, and the power play was a pitiful 2-for-30. Even in Game 7, the Red Wings played like the better team, showing more poise, taking more shots (31-16) and controlling play at even strength. But goalie Ben Bishop was the difference, racking up 31 saves in his first career postseason shutout. And the Lightning became the first team in the series to win two straight games.
" 'Bish' took command of the game," Cooper said.
"He was our rock," center Brian Boyle said.
The Lightning needed Bishop. It looked like a nervous team early in the game, playing tentatively as the Red Wings gained momentum. Cooper said the sense was this would be a 1-0 game, like the last two Game 7s in team history, in which the Lightning was 1-1.
"That's how Game 7s are written," he said.
With every bounce, every deflection, the crowd of 19,204 gasped or roared. It felt like whichever team scored first would win. After the second period, the Lightning players told themselves, "Let's win the next 20 minutes."
And after Coburn's goal, Tampa Bay played some of its best hockey, finally getting to take a deep breath after Anton Stralman's clearing attempt took a wacky bounce and somehow ended up in the empty Detroit net with less than two minutes left.
"They went to church," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "We must have missed mass."
As the Lightning headed into the locker room, it was greeted by owner Jeff Vinik, who brought his family for a rare locker room appearance.
"He said, 'Congratulations,' " defenseman Victor Hedman said. " 'And keep it going.' "
First Period—None. Penalties—Killorn, TB (hooking), 4:37; Abdelkader, Det (interference), 5:06; Zetterberg, Det (holding), 12:44.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Coburn, TB (tripping), :34; DeKeyser, Det (interference), 5:10; Morrow, TB (tripping), 10:29.
Third Period—1, Tampa Bay, Coburn 1 (R.Callahan, Killorn), 3:58. 2, Tampa Bay, Stralman 1 (Bishop), 18:42 (en). Penalties—DeKeyser, Det (delay of game), :51; Sheahan, Det (interference), 12:46; Stamkos, TB (interference), 12:46. Shots on Goal—Detroit 14-9-8—31. Tampa Bay 7-5-5—17. Power-play opportunities—Detroit 0 of 3; Tampa Bay 0 of 4. Goalies—Detroit, Mrazek 3-4-0 (16 shots-15 saves). Tampa Bay, Bishop 4-3-0 (31-31). A—19,204 (19,204).