TAMPA — There are moments that matter, and moments that you remember.
There are plays that change a game, and plays that change a career.
And on rare occasions, there are plays and moments that accomplish all of that, and more.
In years to come, no hockey fan in Tampa Bay will hear the name of Blake Coleman without grinning involuntarily and recalling the night that the Lightning forward dove headfirst with arms extended and shot a puck into the back of the net and the forefront of Lightning lore.
“The timing,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said, “was epic.”
The Lightning did not just win Game 2 against the Canadiens on Wednesday night, they stole it. They got outbattled, outplayed and probably outdressed, and still came away with a 3-1 victory because goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was brilliant and Coleman was balletic.
Vasilevskiy kept the Lightning in the game with save after dramatic save, then Coleman put them in the lead for good when he teamed up with Barclay Goodrow on a turnover and goal that came, officially, with 1.1 seconds remaining in the second period.
“No doubt, a pretty remarkable play by those two in the last second of the period,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “To find a way to put it home was huge. Huge win, for sure.”
It’s hard to overstate just how magical the moment was. The Lightning had blown a 1-0 lead and were being completely dominated in the period. If things had continued on that path, Tampa Bay would have headed to Montreal for Game 3 having squandered home-ice advantage.
So put it on the Mount Rushmore of Tampa Bay sports history. It’s there with Ronde Barber’s interception in Philadelphia and Evan Longoria’s homer at the Trop. With Marty St. Louis putting in the rebound in the second overtime of Game 6 against Calgary, and Tom Brady hitting Scotty Miller in stride at the end of the first half in Green Bay.
It is the type of play that, in years to come, parents will describe to their children when explaining how a game, or a moment, or a player can forever claim a small piece of your heart. And the best part of this goal is that it will never need embellishing.
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“It’s just kind of a reflex, really. I knew they had a back-checker there and I just tried to beat him to the puck,” Coleman said. “I don’t think anyone is planning to dive anywhere on the ice but in that moment it was all we had. And Goody couldn’t have put it in a better spot.
“I don’t know why these goals happen.”
The play was eerily close to a goal Coleman scored in Game 2 against the Bruins in the conference semifinals last season. That time, it was Zach Bogosian passing from the left, and Coleman making a similar diving effort. The biggest difference was Coleman had a little more room in the Boston game, and it was more of a deflection than a swinging shot.
Also, the horn wasn’t about to blow to end the period.
“I literally in my head though, ‘Did he just do that again?’” Cooper said. “A little bit different scenarios, but it was remarkably similar.”
The play began with the puck on a Montreal stick, and 8.5 seconds remaining in the period. Shea Weber passed to Phillip Danault in the neutral zone where Coleman jammed him up against the boards.
“We had a little bit of a puck management thing right at the end of the second,” said Montreal assistant coach Luke Richardson. “Which was unfortunate.”
The puck slid down to McDonagh on the blue line, who quickly passed to Goodrow near center ice. Goodrow maneuvered past Ben Chiarot and began heading up the left side of the offensive zone.
With Danault skating side-by-side with Coleman on the right side and Weber trying to close the gap on the left side, Goodrow could hear players on the Lightning bench shouting for him to shoot with the clock winding down.
So why didn’t Goodrow shoot?
“Um, I’m not too sure,” Goodrow said. “I saw Blake drive the net so I figured if I could maybe get it over to him, it would probably have a better chance of going in than me trying to shoot from where I was. So I went for it, and luckily we had enough time.”
The night was as lopsided as Game 1, just in the opposite direction. The Canadiens dominated the Lightning for long stretches and had to leave the ice feeling as if they deserved the victory.
Which, in some ways, makes it worse than Tampa Bay’s 5-1 beatdown in Game 1.
The Canadiens played as well as they’d hoped, and had nothing to show for it. It’s part of the frustration of facing the Lightning. Even on a night when their top scoring lines were mostly silent, the Lightning can still win because Vasilevskiy is that good. And Tampa Bay’s offense is that deep.
And, on this night, Blake Coleman was that magical.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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