TAMPA — With about a minute left in regulation Friday, captain Steven Stamkos came oh-so-close to tying the score, ripping a one-timer off the crossbar.
You wouldn't blame the Lightning for being deflated, staring at a third consecutive loss.
"I just felt like we were going to win no matter what," Tyler Johnson said.
After all, they had Stamkos, who was feeling it with a game-high six shots.
"Just keep feeding me," Stamkos thought.
Stamkos got another shot with 26 seconds to go, and he didn't miss this one, a blast from above the left circle that forced overtime in a potentially galvanizing 4-3 win over the Predators at Amalie Arena.
Tampa Bay (30-20-4) moved into the first wild-card spot in a tight Eastern Conference.
"It might be one of the biggest goals of the year," goalie Ben Bishop said. "It is right now."
None of Stamkos' 21 other goals this season seemed as significant. Not with the captain entering the game mired in a drought of one goal in 10 games. Not with the constant questions surrounding Stamkos' uncertain future in Tampa, him saying on Thursday there will be "answers" by the Feb. 29 trade deadline.
Goals like this, ever so fleeting this season, are a reason why Stamkos will get paid the big bucks, either with the Lightning or in free agency this summer.
"It was a goal that was a long time coming for me," Stamkos said. "Obviously it came in a great situation, it was nice to contribute offensively as I'm expected to do. Who knows? Hopefully it can be a big goal, it can be something that gets us going."
It certainly didn't look good, the Lightning blowing a third-period lead as the Predators scored twice in a four-minute span. Filip Forsberg put Nashville up 3-2 by cruising around Braydon Coburn in front — "a breakdown," coach Jon Cooper said — and Bishop blaming himself for letting him score.
"I'd like to come up with a save to keep the team in it," Bishop said. "Nice they bailed me out."
Stamkos did. The Lightning had zero shots in the first 10 minutes of the third period, but Stamkos was gathering steam. Stamkos, who had just four combined shots the previous four games, had a game-high seven Friday, all in the second and third period.
"When he's feeling that confidence and shooting the puck, they're going to go in for him," Cooper said.
"If Stammer is going to hit the net seven times, for sure one of them is going in. That's what happened tonight."
After Stamkos hit the crossbar near the end of the late power play, he got another shot during a 6-on-4, on a power play with Bishop pulled.
"If you keep letting Stammer shoot from there, it's going to go in eventually," said Johnson, who scored the overtime winner.
"You look at (Alex Ovechkin), you can tie a guy to him, but he's still going to find a way to get those shots. Stammer is of the same caliber, he's able to find that room."
Said Bishop: "He's got one of the best one-timers in the league, one of the best slap shots. I'm glad he's on my team."
At least, for now.
First Period—1, Nashville, Fisher 8 (Arvidsson, Ekholm), 9:40. Penalties—None.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Brown 7 (Filppula, Sustr), 8:22. 3, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 22 (Nesterov, Bishop), 10:07. Penalties—Nashville bench, served by Bass (too many men), 4:47; Killorn, TB (holding), 5:25; Callahan, TB (tripping), 19:31.
Third Period—4, Nashville, Neal 20 (Josi, Jackman), 4:01. 5, Nashville, Forsberg 18 (Ribeiro, Josi), 7:46. 6, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 22 (Hedman, Kucherov), 19:33 (pp). Penalties—Ellis, Nas (holding), 11:08; Arvidsson, Nas (slashing), 17:36.
Overtime—7, Tampa Bay, Johnson 8 (Hedman, Stamkos), 1:04. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—Nashville 11-13-6-0—30. Tampa Bay 9-11-7-1—28. Power-play opportunities—Nashville 0 of 2; Tampa Bay 1 of 3. Goalies—Nashville, Rinne 20-18-8 (28 shots-24 saves). Tampa Bay, Bishop 22-15-3 (30-27). A—19,092 (19,092). T—2:32.