TAMPA — To veteran defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, his winning goal in overtime Saturday night against the Hurricanes wasn't his best shot of the game.
"It was just one of those that finds a way to get in," he said.
But Bergeron's goal — his first in a Lightning uniform — couldn't have been bigger for Tampa Bay, which found away to beat Carolina 4-3 after blowing a two-goal lead in the final minute of regulation. Tampa Bay (34-17-5) increased its lead in the Southeast Division to five points over the Capitals, who lost to the Kings.
For Bergeron, 30 — who had reconstructive surgery on his right knee, signed with the Lightning in January and joined the team this month after conditioning at AHL Norfolk — it was a special moment.
"I've seen him do that all last year," said coach Guy Boucher, who was with the Canadiens organization then, when Bergeron was in Montreal. "Big goals in big moments. I'm happy, but I'm not surprised."
Despite his team giving up the two late goals, Boucher was very happy with how it played with 60 minutes of "urgency" and responded to the difficult moment after losing focus after losing a two-goal lead in Tuesday's 7-4 loss to the Sabres.
The Lightning was playing without key players due to injury: forwards Ryan Malone and Nate Thompson, along with defenseman Mike Lundin. But it was a familiar star who helped steal the show. Captain Vinny Lecavalier was arguably the best player on the ice, scoring a goal (and nearly adding another) and helping Tampa Bay take a 2-0 lead with an impressive deflection on a Teddy Purcell pass in the second period. Lecavalier has eight points in his past seven games.
"The captain had his red cape and a 'S' on the back today," Boucher said. "Vinny, just incredible, just unreal, a horse out there from the first minute to the end.
"Right now he's inspired the team. He inspired me. He inspired the fans. I'm sure every time he picked up the puck, you could hear the stands going crazy."
But the fans were stunned when, after the Lightning carried a 3-1 lead into the final minute (Sean Bergenheim and Steve Downie also scored), Carolina scored two on Dwayne Roloson (31 saves) after pulling goalie Cam Ward. Jeff Skinner scored with 51 seconds left, and Erik Cole tied it with 32.9 seconds to go when a shot deflected off his leg in the slot.
But, Bergeron said, the team didn't lose focus and continued to battle. And 1:32 into overtime, his wrist shot from the right circle got through Ward.
"It was a real team effort," Boucher said. "We were missing some really important guys. I'm really happy about this performance."
First Period—None. Penalties—Downie, TB (boarding), 1:03; Samsonov, Car (boarding), 3:50; Downie, TB (charging), 5:32; Skinner, Car (charging), 5:50; Kubina, TB (holding), 6:45; White, Car (tripping), 9:42; Ruutu, Car (roughing), 12:55; Moore, TB (high-sticking), 12:55; E.Staal, Car (hooking), 19:29.
Second Period—1, TB, Downie 7 (St. Louis, Stamkos), 4:26. 2, TB, Lecavalier 12 (Purcell, Gagne), 7:41 (pp). 3, Carolina, E.Staal 27 (Pitkanen, Cole), 9:08 (pp). Penalties—Stamkos, TB (slashing), 1:40; Pitkanen, Car (cross-checking), 6:04; Smaby, TB (boarding), 8:50; LaRose, Car (hooking), 12:21.
Third Period—4, TB, Bergenheim 11 (Tyrell), 12:48. 5, Carolina, Skinner 21 (E.Staal, Ruutu), 19:08. 6, Carolina, Cole 15 (Pitkanen, Corvo), 19:27. Penalties—Kubina, TB (interference), 4:54; Smaby, TB (high-sticking), 8:15.
Overtime—7, TB, Bergeron 1 (Bergenheim), 1:32. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—Carolina 12-5-17-0—34. TB 15-18-6-2—41. Power-play opportunities—Carolina 1 of 8; TB 1 of 5. Goalies—Carolina, Ward 23-18-7 (41 shots-37 saves). TB, Roloson 15-18-1 (34-31). A—19,910 (19,758).