After looking lethargic through the first period of their matinee against the Blackhawks Sunday in Chicago and falling behind by three goals, the Lightning clearly needed a spark.
Coach Jon Cooper often relies on Yanni Gourde in such situations. Whether it’s tweaking a forward line or giving Gourde additional time on special teams, he’s as dependable as it gets for providing energy.
With the Lightning in danger of letting a game get away early, Goude made sure it didn’t. The 29-year-old center scored two key goals as part of a career-high four-point day, and Tampa Bay won 6-3 on the back of six unanswered goals.
“I don’t know where he gets it, he has so much energy,” Lightning forward Alex Killorn said of his new linemate for the past two games. “We have to yell for him to get off the ice most of the time, because he’ll probably play the whole game if he could.
“… I really enjoy the way he works. He wins a lot of his battles. He’s always first on pucks, and he created a ton of opportunities tonight. He scores the big two goals, but there’s a lot of other plays that he made that were huge for us today.”
The Lightning power play had one of its most productive days, scoring a season-high four goals in five man-advantage situations, including Gourde’s go-ahead goal with 3:05 remaining in the second period. The goal was the last of four Tampa Bay scored in the period, giving the Lightning a 4-3 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Gourde unloaded a slap shot from the top of the left circle, beating Blackhawks goaltender Kevin Lankinen shortside as Pat Maroon set a screen in front of the net.
“(Gourde) never stops going and he never gives up on plays,” Cooper said. “He’s just a worker, and couple that with some skill that you saw tonight, and I think in the last year and a half he’s really elevated his game, and probably a lot of it’s getting more comfortable with the league. (Sunday), he was rewarded for some hard work, and you like to see that.”
After the Lightning fell behind 3-0, Ondrej Palat put them on the scoreboard with a wrist shot from the right circle past a Killorn screen. His 10th goal of the season and eighth on the power play came just under four minutes into the second period.
Gourde scored 23 seconds later, collecting his own rebound from the top of the left circle and burying his second opportunity inside the near post. About 3-1/2 minutes after that, defenseman Victor Hedman scored on a slap shot from the point.
Gourde assisted on the Lightning’s final two goals. He won a puck battle behind the net and fed Killorn for an open shot just above the hashmarks with 5:35 remaining. Three minutes later, Maroon scored on the power play, rebounding Gourde’s slap shot from the right circle while trailing on the rush.
“I take a lot of pride in trying to get everyone ready after a slow period like the first period,” Gourde said. “That’s something I really like doing. It’s part of me. It’s part of my game: working hard, trying to be intense and try to draw people into the fight. And hopefully, I make an impact on my team and my teammates.”
The Lightning (17-4-2, 36 points) took two of three from the Blackhawks over the past four days at the United Center and are off to the best 23-game start in franchise history. They had 34 points in 23 games in 2017-18.
Still, the early three-goal deficit — and some sub-par periods during their stay in Chicago — suggest that the team continues to be a work in progress.
“I think whoever we’re playing, we need to come on harder,” Gourde said. “I think we weren’t sharp enough in the first period in all three games. I think we (had) slow starts, and I think that’s really something that we need to focus on.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
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