TAMPA — It had been so long since Lightning wing Erik Condra had earned a postgame TV interview that he had to get his teeth from the locker room Tuesday night.
Condra, who scored two goals — the first and last — in a 6-2 win over the Red Wings, took a puck to the mouth in a game a few years back and lost his top front four teeth. He normally doesn't wear his dental implants during games.
Tuesday he had good reason to smile. Having scored one goal in Tampa Bay's previous 65 games, he was the spark and the final punctuation in a key win as the Lightning jockeys for playoff position with nine games left in the regular season entering tonight's home game against the Islanders.
"I think I've started to get my game back a little bit," said Condra, 29, who played his first five NHL seasons in Ottawa. "Sometimes you need to take baby steps to get back to where you were, and hopefully this will continue as the season goes and the playoffs. It's a critical time of the year."
Condra was the lone offseason addition the Lightning made after it lost to the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup final. He came to Tampa with experience playing for coach Jon Cooper from two junior seasons as a teenager. Cooper was a part-time coach and part-time lawyer then.
"Whenever you got a speeding ticket, he would get us off," Condra said.
They worked together in humbler times in Texarkana, Texas, times when a rodeo claimed their home arena for six weeks, making the team drive 90 minutes to practice in Little Rock, Ark., or Shreveport, La.
"It was ridiculous," Condra said. "Crazy towns. The road you take always makes you appreciate it a little more."
This season has been a quiet one for Condra, who scored two goals in the first week but has regularly been a healthy scratch, fighting to get regular work in an unsung role, primarily neutralizing opposing lines.
"He's been fighting for his identity with our team," Cooper said. "It's tough when you come into a team and you're the only new guy. When everybody else is on the same page, he has to find his way a little bit.
"I think he's done a heck of a job. He's a complete pro. You're pulling for him all the time."
Working on the penalty kill and tasked with checking shifts, Condra has earned the respect of his new teammates, who were thrilled to see him rewarded with two goals Tuesday, especially in a key win down the stretch.
"He's one of those guys that works hard every single night," Tyler Johnson said. "So for him to get rewarded like that, that's awesome for our team and awesome for him individually."
Condra's big game came with about 35 friends and family in the stands. He's from Trenton, Mich., near Detroit, so having the Red Wings in town during spring break brought a big cheering section. Playoffs aside, Condra has another thing to be excited about. His wife, Ryan, is due with their second child, a girl, next week, joining son Callan, who is 18 months old.
"If we're going to go anywhere, we need depth," Cooper said, "and he's helping with that."