TAMPA — As much resilience as the Lightning has shown recently, this looked pretty darn bleak.
Like season-over bad.
With any loss potentially crippling Tampa Bay's perilous playoff hopes, it fell behind 4-1 midway through Monday's showdown with the Blackhawks. The Lightning's No. 1 goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy, had already been pulled and re-inserted into the game. The large portion of red-clad Chicago fans drowned out the sellout crowd of 19,092 at Amalie Arena.
Cooper summed up the feeling perfectly: "This (stinks).'"
But the Lightning didn't sink. It surprised — again —roaring back for a thrilling 5-4 overtime win over Chicago. Tampa Bay's third consecutive come-from-behind victory was a significant swing in the standings. It pulled the Lightning one point ahead of the Islanders and within one point of Boston for the final wild-card spot with seven games to go.
"We didn't quit," Cooper said. "We just kept hanging around, hanging around, hanging around."
Said wing Yanni Gourde: "We knew we could come back. We've got the firepower."
Gourde, a rookie who was in the ECHL just a few years ago, was the unlikely hero, scoring the overtime winner on a breakaway with just under a minute to go. It was his second career goal, the other was the tying shorthanded goal in a win over Florida a few weeks ago.
"It was an amazing feeling," Gourde said.
It was a strange feeling for Vasilevskiy. He was pulled 15 minutes in after giving up three goals on the first eight shots. Cooper said it wasn't Vasilevskiy's fault, he just wanted to calm the game down.
All along, Cooper said, he knew he'd put "the kid back in."
Vasilevskiy said Cooper told him minutes before the second period started that he'd be going in. Vasilevskiy called it a big "confidence boost."
"After the first, I was thinking, 'Damn,' " Vasilevskiy said. "But coach gave me a second chance."
Then Jonathan Drouin began the comeback with his first of two goals, re-directing an Alex Killorn shot midway through the second. Sixty two seconds later, Greg McKegg had his biggest play with the Lightning, circling the net on a wraparound, his centering pass finding a streaking Stralman in the slot. Stralman scored to make it 4-3.
But Drouin wasn't done.
The Lightning got a late second-period power play, and Drouin delivered, his blast from above the circles beating Scott Darling to tie it up. It was his 20th goal of the season and 50th point. Not bad for a kid turning 22 today.
Tampa Bay, likely gassed from its comeback, just held on in the third period, tallying just three shots. Vasilevskiy came up huge, especially his sprawling right pad save on Patrick Kane, who had split the defense with 12 minutes to go.
Cooper knew Vasilevskiy would win the game.
Joked Cooper: "He just took a six-minute break."
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First Period—1, Chicago, Panarin 25 (Kero), 1:23. 2, Tampa Bay, Palat 16 (Kucherov, Hedman), 9:29 (pp). 3, Chicago, Kane 34 (Hjalmarsson, Keith), 10:17. 4, Chicago, Jurco 1 (Schmaltz), 13:41.
Second Period—5, Chicago, Panik 21 (Schmaltz, Van riemsdyk), 8:47. 6, Tampa Bay, Drouin 19 (Stralman, Killorn), 11:45. 7, Tampa Bay, Stralman 4 (Palat, Mckegg), 12:47. 8, Tampa Bay, Drouin 20 (Kucherov, Hedman), 16:24 (pp).
Overtime—9, Tampa Bay, Gourde 2 (Hedman), 4:25.
Shots on Goal—Chicago 11-10-10-1—32. Tampa Bay 9-14-3-4—30.
Power-play opportunities—Chicago 0 of 3; Tampa Bay 2 of 3.
Goalies—Chicago, Darling 18-5-4 (30 shots-25 saves). Tampa Bay, Budaj 29-21-3 (3-3), Vasilevskiy 19-16-6 (29-25).