TAMPA — Maybe this spring, if the Lightning is in the middle of another playoff run, it'll think back to Thursday's 2-1 victory over the Rangers as where its season got turned around.
"I'd like to hope so," wing Alex Killorn said. "Who knows, right?"
This one had galvanizing victory written all over it. Tampa Bay entered struggling mightily, mired in a scoring slump and desperate for a win to avoid falling further away from .500. Down four regular forwards, it relied heavily on callups from AHL Syracuse — call it TampaCuse — against a red-hot Rangers team that was hoping to tie a franchise record with a 10th consecutive win.
And after another late tying goal by an opponent could have broken Tampa Bay's spirit, it rebounded with its first shorthanded goal of the season, Valtteri Filppula finishing off a 2-on-1 with 1:05 to go to get the win.
"I think this has been coming for us," coach Jon Cooper said. "Unfortunately it takes until Game 21. But the guys deserved this. It's got to turn around at some point."
Cooper felt a different "vibe" the past couple of weeks from his players. Despite the frustrating losses and the stunning scoring slump, their work ethic and habits were there. Just not the rewards. That changed Thursday, the Lightning (9-9-3) breaking the Big Apple's hearts again, playing the type of game it used to oust the Rangers in seven games in the Eastern Conference final last season.
"I thought a lot of people were counting us out," goalie Ben Bishop said. "Sometimes it's what you need, guys to come together."
There was Bishop, who shut out the Rangers twice in the playoffs, with 20 saves, none bigger than his penalty shot save on Chris Kreider in the third. Bishop is 9-0-0 in his career in the regular season versus New York.
"I felt really good," he said. "Not hard to get up for this game."
Said Filppula: "(Bishop) was the biggest reason we won."
Filppula had a key role, too, setting up Killorn's first-period goal with a steal at the Rangers' blue line, then scoring the winner after a beautiful feed by J.T. Brown. It was just Filppula's second goal of the season and the third for Killorn, his first since Oct. 29.
"It's kind of like a weight off your shoulders," Killorn said.
Cooper said the callups "injected really good life into our team." Jonathan Marchessault was dangerous again with three shots. Mike Blunden was throwing his body around. And Joel Vermin, in his NHL debut, was impressively poised.
"Didn't look like his first NHL game," Cooper said. "(If) we don't have (the callups), I don't know how it turns out."
It looked like it would end in heartbreaking fashion after former Lightning wing Dominic Moore tied the score with just over six minutes left and the Rangers got a power play in the final two minutes.
"It could have been a 'Here we go again,' " Cooper said.
But Brown, a pest all night, may have played his best game in the NHL, impacting the game more than anyone other than the goalies, Cooper said. So Cooper said it was fitting that Brown set up Filppula for the winner.
"We've got a lot on our plate coming up," Cooper said. "But this should be a good stepping-stone."
Contact Joe Smith at email@example.com. Follow@TBTimes_JSmith.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Killorn 3 (Filppula), 14:47. Penalties—Zuccarello, NYR (tripping), 10:12; Stepan, NYR (hooking), 10:54; Marchessault, TB (embellishment), 10:54; D.Boyle, NYR (roughing), 13:19; Brown, TB (roughing), 13:19.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Garrison, TB (holding), 5:43.
Third Period—2, N.Y. Rangers, Moore 2, 13:43. 3, Tampa Bay, Filppula 2 (Brown), 18:55 (sh). Penalties—Hayes, NYR (roughing), 5:25; B.Boyle, TB (roughing), 5:25; McDonagh, NYR (interference), 14:23; B.Boyle, TB (interference), 18:34. Missed Penalty Shot—Kreider, NYR, 3:51 third. Shots on Goal—N.Y. Rangers 7-7-7—21. Tampa Bay 10-7-11—28. Power-play opportunities—N.Y. Rangers 0 of 2; Tampa Bay 0 of 2. Goalies—N.Y. Rangers, Lundqvist 10-3-2 (28 shots-26 saves). Tampa Bay, Bishop 7-7-2 (21-20). A—19,092 (19,204). T—2:33. Referees—Jean Hebert, Mark Lemelin. Linesmen—Shane Heyer, Mark Shewchyk.