TAMPA — It came down to a sprawling glove grab by Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, and some very high-definition video in New York.
The Lightning’s win wasn’t sealed until six minutes after the Tesla strike sparked. The video replay team at the NHL’s league office took that long to review Vasilevskiy’s buzzer-beating save.
Finally, referee Tim Peel announced — to a nearly silent arena — “it has been determined the puck never crossed the goal line.” The Tesla sparked all over again as three-quarters of the crowd erupted and the Lightning secured a 3-2 win over the Penguins. (Those in black and gold were less than thrilled).
“You have to really make sure,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said of the long wait. “But the longer it took, the more confident I got that it wasn’t in. It’s tough to go along and all of a sudden find a goal.”
Vasilevskiy said it was worth the wait.
“There was a big scramble and I just tried to seal the bottom of the net,” he said. “He just shot it into my glove. It’s a kind of never-give-up play. It works sometimes. Not every time, though.”
The save was made as desperation devolved into a mess in the crease. The Penguins just threw the puck on net repeatedly in the final seconds. Ryan McDonagh collapsed in the crease, blocking a shot, then Erik Cernak joined him and Vasilevskiy.
Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang got off one more shot with one second left. Vasilevskiy threw out his glove and grabbed the puck. But the puck’s momentum carried the glove backward unknown fractions of an inch. It came very close to the goal line.
Vasilevskiy saw Letang prepare to take the shot and just tried to seal off the openings. The play happened too fast to know if his glove passed the line.
Even as the crowd erupted with the sound of the final buzzer, the Lightning and Penguins looked around with uncertainty. Sure enough, the officials huddled up for a review, and everyone waited.
The Lightning had only taken the lead 57 seconds before, as the struggling power play came through in the clutch, on its second opportunity in the final five minutes of the game.
“We tried to improve on our power play and haven’t really been having the success we had last year,” Hedman said. “So it was a big one for us.”
First, Zach Aston-Reese sat for throwing his stick to a teammate who’d broken his own. The Lightning had nothing going on that power play, as they had on the two previous. But they got another chance when Jake Guentzel went to the box for hooking Anthony Cirelli.
The Lightning cycled the puck as fans, too used to the team’s over-passing ways, called for someone to shoot. Finally, Hedman found his opening. He ripped a one-timer from the center point, a few feet off the blue line, that sailed past Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry.
Even to Hedman it felt like the first shot on the power-play in a while (they didn’t put a shot on net on the previous advantage). He said he needs to be more of a threat to shoot the puck.
“It goes in spurts," Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. “When you’re hot, you’re hot. When you’re not, it feels like nothing is going to go in. The more you shoot, the better the chances. Heddy let’s one rip and it goes in. It’s a huge moment for us and hopefully that can open the floodgates a little bit."
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @dianacnearhos.