The Lightning trailed the Red Wings by three goals three times Thursday night in Detroit.
And after they were literally punched in the face, the defending back-to-back Stanley Cup champions showed how much fight they still possess.
They won 7-6 in overtime, a victory that was far from perfect, but any discussion about the Lightning looking tired or unmotivated this season can be put to rest for now.
The Lightning forced overtime with three goals in the final 6:17 of regulation, then earned their first win of the season on Ondrej Palat’s redirection in front of the net 2:43 into overtime.
“There’s some things we need to clean up in our game still,” defenseman Victor Hedman told reporters in Detroit. “But there’s not a lot of teams in this league that can come back being down three goals with six minutes left and come back and win. So it says a lot about the character in our room and in the never-die moments like that. We’re just fun to watch.”
Hedman had four assists, including the primary assist on Tampa Bay’s final three goals. In overtime, Hedman sped into the offensive zone and, from the right dot, flicked the puck in front of the net, where streaking Palat tipped it past goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic.
“It was a wild game,” Palat said in a postgame interview with Bally Sports Sun.
With Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy pulled for an extra attacker, Hedman picked off an errant clearing attempt by Nedeljkovic in the corner and made a quick backhanded feed to Alex Killorn in front of the net to set up the tying goal with 2:19 left in the third.
“There’s a little bit of a winning pedigree in that locker room,” coach Jon Cooper said. “And they’ve shown that fight before. And especially after the performance on opening night (a 6-2 loss to the Penguins on Tuesday), it was paramount that we had to come away with points in this game, and to get two, I was pretty proud of the guys.”
Down 4-1 in the second period, the Lightning scored twice in 72 seconds, both goals coming from captain Steven Stamkos on a power play.
The goals came after Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin landed a right-handed punch to Lightning forward Mathieu Joseph’s face because he didn’t like the way Joseph hit him into the boards, prompting a fight that sent Larkin to the Detroit locker room with a match-penalty ejection and two Lightning players to the penalty box.
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Cooper stewed behind the bench, unable to comprehend how the Lightning ended up having to defend a 4-on-3 Red Wings power play. And 49 seconds into that man advantage, Detroit went up 4-1 on Tyler Bertuzzi’s third goal of the game with 7:31 left in the period.
“For us to come out of that 4-on-3 was mind-boggling to me,” Cooper said. “I just don’t know how that got rewarded, but it did.”
But once the Lightning got the man advantage for three minutes for the remainder of the five-minute penalty assessed to Larkin, they came to life.
Over their past two Cup runs, physicality and fisticuffs brought out the best in them, and they began to channel their anger on the ice Thursday.
Drifting toward his office in the left circle, Stamkos scored on a one-timer from the high slot, then on a snipe from below the left circle.
After taking momentum into the third period, the Lightning gave it back after allowing two Detroit goals in the first 7:10 of the period, including a fourth goal from Bertuzzi. Center Ross Colton gave the Lightning life with his score with 6:17 remaining, backhanding Erik Cernak’s puck to the front of the net.
Nikita Kucherov’s power-play goal with 3:35 left cut the Detroit lead to one and gave Kucherov four points (one goal, three assists) on the night.
“The start was certainly better (than Tuesday), and the effort was certainly better,” Stamkos said. “We probably didn’t deserve to be down three goals multiple times in this game, it’s just the way that game went. It was a weird one.
“It’s early, but you can build off wins like this where they’re emotional and you come back and you start to build on something.”
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