The Lightning were exhausted. They had played more than six hours of hockey. But the puck hit the back of the net and the bench exploded. An eight-period game is a lot easier to handle when you win.
“They’re still a bunch of kids,” coach Jon Cooper said. “They compete their asses off and they get damn excited when they score, especially when they score in the fifth overtime.”
Brayden Point figures this is probably the biggest goal of his career. And he said he wasn’t even aiming, just threw the bouncing puck on net. But Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo wasn’t letting anything get in easily in overtime, and Point placed the shot top shelf to finally end the game.
The Lightning and Blue Jackets just can’t help making history in the playoffs. Last year, it was the historic sweep of the No. 1 team by the 16th. This year, they opened up with the fourth longest game in Stanley Cup playoffs history.
On Monday, Alex Killorn said the Lightning were just excited to finally play playoff hockey. They’d sat for five months waiting for hockey to return and then spent 10 days watching other teams play elimination series, while they played a round robin.
Well, the Lightning got their chance at a whole lot of playoff hockey — almost more than two games worth to settle Game 1 at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena.
The game went on long enough that some players snacked on bananas, oatmeal, chicken and brown rice during the fifth intermission. Cooper abstained from eating his salmon salad, though, to not break up the karma.
Tampa Bay and Columbus played almost two games’ worth of hockey between goals — 110:04 in hockey time and more than four hours on the real-life clock — between Yanni Gourde tying it up early in the third period and the game winner.
“You have to focus on your next shift and not the end result,” Point said.
Cooper said the Lightning stressed focusing on the little things — “all the things that aren’t flashy” — as it became a game of who was going to blink first.
Both goalies, but Korpisalo in particular can be thanked or blamed for the length of the game. He faced 88 shots and set a Stanley Cup playoffs record by saving 85 of them. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 61 saves, which would have been a jaw-dropping number, if his teammates hadn’t been piling on at the other end.
Midway through the third overtime, Gourde put a nice redirection on net and Korpisalo slid to his right while closing his five hole to make the close-range pad save look easy.
Nikita Kucherov had the best chance to end the game late in the first overtime. Palat set him up with a wide open side of the net and Kucherov’s shot went wide. He hung his head, acknowledging the golden chance gone by.
The day started as one of bounces and deflections. Pierre-Luc Dubois scored the first goal in the first period, but only in so much as Alex Texier’s shot bounced off him.
Point tied the score up in the same fashion four minutes later. Victor Hedman’s shot didn’t make it all the way to net, Kucherov jumped on the puck and fired off a shot that deflected off Point’s leg.
Oliver Bjorkstrand put the Blue Jackets back on top within the final minute of the second period. He took a shot from the wall, only a few feet off the goal line and it didn’t look like Andrei Vasilevskiy ever saw it coming.
That kind of goal, especially to break a tie at the end of a period, can really shift momentum. But the Lightning came out of intermission pressing.
Just 23 seconds into the third period, the third line of Blake Coleman, Gourde and Barclay Goodrow created an opportunity. It was Gourde who tried to jam the puck in at the post. Joonas Korpisalo made a stick save, but couldn’t corral the rebound. The puck slid under him and off his pad, outstretched behind him, into the far side of the net.
The Lightning killed off two more penalties, including their second too-many-men call of the game on a miscommunication between Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev with 4:28 to play in regulation.
Columbus found that desperation mode — the one that they’d developed in the elimination best-of-five qualifier series — before the Lightning did, but Andrei Vasilevskiy kept the Blue Jackets out of the net to get to overtime.
Then the game was on.