TAMPA — Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal’s overtime goal Thursday night not only silenced the largest crowd to watch a game at Amalie Arena in more than 15 months, it also pumped life into his team.
The Lightning may have played their best game of the second-round playoff series against the Hurricanes — they controlled the puck, manufactured scoring chances and revived their power play — but Game 3 ended with a 3-2 loss in front of an announced crowd of 13,544.
The Lightning could have put the Hurricanes’ season on the ropes with a win. Instead, Carolina got its first victory of the series, cutting its deficit to 2-1.
“I think our team has gotten better every single game, and that’s what I’ve liked,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We’ve just got to keep going. You can hang your head on these (kinds of losses). You’ve just got to turn the page and go to the next one.
“The playoffs are a big damn roller coaster, and you can’t get too excited when you’re high, can’t get too low when it’s low, and you’ve just got to keep trusting in your process.”
Staal’s goal came on a power play 5:57 into overtime after Nikita Kucherov was called for a holding-the-stick penalty. Forward Martin Necas flicked a pass from the boards between a triangle of Lightning defenders to forward Sebastian Aho, whose one-timer from the left circle was deflected by Staal past Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The shape of Round 2 now takes a much different turn. It puts more importance on a win for the Lightning in Saturday’s Game 4 at Amalie Arena to prevent sending the series back to Raleigh, N.C., tied.
The Lightning faced the same scenario in the first round, taking a 2-0 series lead on the Panthers before dropping Game 3 at home in overtime, but they won the next two to advance.
“We’ve been in spots like this before,” said center Brayden Point, who scored the Lightning’s first of two power-play goals and also assisted on the other. “I think it might be different if we felt like we didn’t play a good game and they won. But I think for the most part, we’re pretty happy with the way we played.
“Obviously there’s things you can clean up, things you can watch and hopefully do better next time, but for the most part, I liked our game. Give Carolina credit; they played hard as well.”
The Lightning’s power play, which had just one shot on goal in the first two games of the series, re-emerged with two big second-period goals to tie the score after falling behind 2-0.
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Alex Killorn’s sixth postseason goal tied it at 2 with 3:42 left in the second period and was made possible by Kucherov’s relentlessness in front of the net.
Kucherov swept in and put a shot on net that Carolina goaltender Petr Mrazek stopped, but Kucherov corralled the rebound to the left of the net and sent a pass to Killorn in the high slot that he buried in the back.
The Lightning cut the Carolina lead to one on Point’s power-play goal 8:57 into the second period.
Point’s score was surgical, with Steven Stamkos drawing attention at the left circle, then sending a cross-ice pass to Kucherov at the right circle. Kucherov quickly sent a tough pass as Point approached the net, and Point buried a one-timer past Mrazek, who started his first postseason game this year.
“We got set up, and we put together some passing plays and were able to find some soft spots,” defenseman Victor Hedman said of the power play. “That’s what was clicking for us (Thursday), and it was a huge momentum shift for us in the game being down 2-0.”
Carolina scored two goals in 2:25 in the second period, by defenseman Brett Pesce and Aho.
In overtime, the Lightning had their opportunities, especially given that they were on a power play for the first 53 seconds after Carolina defenseman Dougie Hamilton was called for tripping late in regulation. The Lightning had four of their five overtime shots on goal in the first 1:25.
“You want to see growth in your team,” Cooper said. “We played well. We didn’t win, but a lot of good things happened, we got our chances, we can’t complain.
“It’s what makes best-of-seven series fun. They rarely are sweeps. … And we did pretty much everything we wanted to do except for getting one more goal than them.”
First Period—None. Penalties—Kucherov, TB (Interference), 17:11.
Second Period—1, Carolina, Pesce 2 (Svechnikov, Aho), 5:15. 2, Carolina, Aho 6 (Slavin, Teravainen), 7:40. 3, Tampa Bay, Point 6 (Stamkos, Kucherov), 8:57 (pp). 4, Tampa Bay, Killorn 6 (Point, Kucherov), 16:18 (pp). Penalties—Aho, CAR (Cross Checking), 8:01; Skjei, CAR (Hooking), 15:52.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Hamilton, CAR (Tripping), 18:52.
Overtime—5, Carolina, Staal 5 (Teravainen, Aho), 5:57 (pp). Penalties—Kucherov, TB (Holding Stick), 4:16.
Shots on Goal—Carolina 9-9-5-4_27. Tampa Bay 10-13-9-5_37.
Power-play opportunities—Carolina 1 of 2; Tampa Bay 2 of 3.
Goalies—Carolina, Mrazek 1-0-0 (37 shots-35 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 6-3-0 (27-24).
A—13,544 (19,092). T—2:55.
Referees—Gord Dwyer, Dan O’Rourke.
Linesmen—Michel Cormier, Jonny Murray.
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