TAMPA — The Lightning sent a message Monday night in their first of back-to-back games against fellow division heavyweight Carolina.
Tampa Bay had lost a two-goal, second-period lead when forward Alex Killorn laid a hit on Carolina’s Martin Necas as he crossed center ice midway through the third period, electrifying the limited-capacity Amalie Arena crowd.
When the Hurricanes enforcer — in this case, Jake Gardiner — chased Killorn into the corner, he was game. And it was Killorn handing out right-handed punches.
After Killorn took Gardiner to the ground, he quickly got up, flipped off his helmet and as he skated toward the penalty box, Killorn looked into the crowd and — as if taking a page from a WWE superstar — emphatically waved his hands into the air to get the crowd going.
That seemed to not just energize fans, but the Lightning. Tampa Bay got a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory in a game that was probably the Lightning’s best all-around performance in about three weeks
Yanni Gourde’s putback goal with 2:10 in overtime was the winner. Gourde found himself open in the slot, and after his initial wrister was stopped by goalie Petr Mrazek, he charged the net and put a loose puck in the back of the net.
“Very satisfying, very satisfying,” Gourde said of the goal. “It’s always good to get a goal in overtime. It’s different. It feels great, especially knowing the way we played tonight. We really deserved that win and it was good to finish it off.”
It’s still roughly a month before the playoffs begin, but Monday night’s game held the feel of the postseason, and it could be a precursor to a potential playoff meeting down the road.
“The whole game, it seemed like there was some pent-up energy in our team,” Killorn said. “You’re going to have to get through some of these teams that we’re playing. And when you play these teams as much as we are, I think there’s certain things that build up. And you want to play a certain way going into the playoffs.”
Killorn assisted on Gourde’s goal, winning the puck off the boards and back-handing it to Gourde in the slot, Killorn also scored the Lightning’s first goal, giving him his first career Gordie Howe hat trick. After the game, he received a standing ovation when he was recognized as the second star of the game. In the dressing room, the team presented Killorn with a game puck.
“I haven’t had a ton of fights in the NHL, but whenever you get a fight, you’re always hoping you could get a goal and an assist,” Killorn said. “To get it on a game winner in overtime, that’s really special.”
Killorn said that he was actually worried that Necas was going to knock him over because of how fast he was skating up ice.
“On the hit, it was kind of a pre-scout thing,” Killorn said. “We know he gets so much speed coming on the power play and he kind of runs into me. That’s how fast he’s coming.”
Carolina took an extra penalty on the play, so it took the the league’s top-ranked power play unit off the ice.
The Lightning know Carolina well. Coach Jon Cooper likened the Hurricanes to a basketball team playing an entire game of full-court press. They’re an aggressive forechecking team that’s constantly in your face. But the Lightning dictated the pace of play throughout most of Monday’s game.
“You limit them having the puck,” Cooper said. “They want to be on you and they want to be the ones that create the O-zone time, and I thought for a lot of the night we were the team that was doing that and it worked well for us.”
With 11 games left in the regular season, the top three teams in the division — Florida and Carolina tied for first, and Tampa Bay in second — are jockeying for position atop the Central. Despite the win, the Lightning didn’t gain any ground, remaining in third place in the division because Carolina gained a point and Florida beat Columbus.
“Got to do it again (Tuesday) night,” Cooper said.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
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