TAMPA — Though Jonathan Drouin remains in limbo in AHL Syracuse awaiting a trade, another Lightning first-round draft pick is flourishing.
Forward Vladislav Namestnikov, playing the kind of minutes and top-line role Drouin has sought, continued his breakout season with a bang Friday, his first pro hat trick lifting the Lightning to a 5-4 overtime win over the Penguins at Amalie Arena.
"You obviously dream about it," Namestnikov said. "It's a special feeling."
Namestnikov's third tally was the winner. He pounced on a loose puck just over two minutes into overtime. It sealed a season-high fourth straight win for Tampa Bay (23-17-4), which had blown a two-goal lead before tying it with five minutes left in regulation.
"Blown leads, comebacks, extra time, send the fans home happy and throw on a hat trick to boot," coach Jon Cooper said. "So it's pretty good."
The Lightning should feel fortunate to walk away with two points. The Penguins outshot it 35-18 after the first five minutes of the game. Tampa Bay's resurgent power play came through with two goals in the second period, including a 5-on-3 goal by Valtteri Filppula. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy once again gave Tampa Bay a chance with 36 saves.
But it was Namestnikov's night. It hasn't been easy for Namestnikov, the 27th overall pick in 2011. He split last season between the Lightning and Syracuse, and like Drouin, he was often a healthy scratch in the playoffs. Even this season, Namestnikov has played less than 10 minutes five times and has spent time on the fourth line.
"He's had to fight for everything," Cooper said. "He stuck with it. He's made a choice to be an NHL hockey player, and you really pull for guys like that."
Namestnikov, 23, has been the team's most improved player this season, stepping up when thrust into a top-six role due to injuries. And he has earned his way back as the team has gotten healthy, forming the Lightning's hottest line with captain Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat.
"He's been one of our best forwards all year," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "It's been fun to watch."
You can see Namestnikov's confidence soaring from a mile away. On his first goal, Namestnikov used his best asset, speed, to race down the right side before ripping a shot gloveside past Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
"You don't see him do that a whole lot," Cooper said.
Namestnikov's second goal, which made the score 3-1 in the second period, came on a power play. He snuck behind two defensemen to tip in a Victor Hedman point shot.
The Penguins then made a big push, beating the Lightning to pucks and controlling the faceoff circle, and taking the lead at 4-3 with six minutes left. But two shifts later, Stralman forced overtime with a spectacular spin-o-rama backhand. "He's been saving that one," Cooper joked.
Namestnikov finished it off, zipping around the Penguins zone, then crashing the net to put in a rebound off a Nikita Kucherov shot.
Said Cooper: "He's being a big-time contributor, playing with some big-time players, and he's fitting in just fine."
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Namestnikov 7 (Stamkos, Nesterov), 1:51. 2, Pittsburgh, Letang 6 (Crosby, Hornqvist), 10:37. Penalties—Kucherov, TB (hooking), 4:46; Paquette, TB (hooking), 15:47; Rust, Pit (holding), 18:09.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Filppula 6 (Johnson, Stamkos), 8:12 (pp). 4, Tampa Bay, Namestnikov 8 (Hedman, Filppula), 10:47 (pp). 5, Pittsburgh, Hornqvist 10 (Malkin, Letang), 14:23 (pp). Penalties—Sustr, TB (holding), 4:43; Cullen, Pit (hooking), 7:45; Fehr, Pit (hooking), 7:49; Cullen, Pit (cross-checking), 8:54; Nesterov, TB (hooking), 13:06.
Third Period—6, Pittsburgh, Daley 2 (Malkin, Kessel), 10:13. 7, Pittsburgh, Kunitz 7 (Maatta, Hornqvist), 13:48. 8, Tampa Bay, Stralman 5 (Filppula, Paquette), 15:21. Penalties—Kunitz, Pit (boarding), 2:48.
Overtime—9, Tampa Bay, Namestnikov 9 (Kucherov), 2:11. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—Pittsburgh 8-11-18-3—40. Tampa Bay 7-6-10-2—25. Power-play opportunities—Pittsburgh 1 of 4; Tampa Bay 2 of 5. Goalies—Pittsburgh, Fleury 15-11-5 (25 shots-20 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 6-4-0 (40-36). A—19,092 (19,092). T—2:42. Referees—Gord Dwyer, Dean Morton. Linesmen—John Grandt, Derek Amell.