TAMPA — The Lightning head into this weekend’s All-Star break with 30 wins on the season. Seven, including a 3-2 victory over the Sharks Tuesday at Amalie Arena, have come in overtime.
The Lightning and Red Wings are tied for the most overtime wins (their 7-2 record in OT doesn’t include a 2-4 record in shootouts). But at the break, Tampa Bay’s ability to pick up an extra point after a game goes to overtime is an overlooked reason why they sit third in the league in points entering the break.
The 3-on-3 format of the five-minute overtime period is much different than regulation play. With fewer skaters, there’s much more open ice, which creates a frenetic pace of play and offers more odd-man rushes and open looks at the net.
The Lightning have the skill to be successful in those types of scenarios, but they have to be patient with their push and shot selection, because an unpredictable bounce can send the opponent the other way on an odd-man rush. Line changes can be tricky, because if not timed well they leave large swatches of ice uncovered.
“It’s the same in overtime, like the rest of the game,” said defenseman Victor Hedman, who scored the game-winning goal against the Sharks with 2:15 left in the extra session. “We stayed patient and waited for our chances and then we capitalized, and that’s been kind of the motto going into that 3-on-3, to stay patient and don’t force anything, just try and tire the other team out and be there when you get the chance.”
On Saturday, the Lightning and Golden Knights played a scoreless back-and-forth overtime that had no whistles and nine combined shot attempts. The teams needed a seven-round shootout before Vegas emerged as the winner.
The Lightning rebounded Tuesday against a San Jose team that entered the game with an identical 6-2 overtime record. Brayden Point turned the puck over in his own zone, but Andrei Vasilevskiy made a remarkable save on an open feed to the far post. The rebound sent Point the other way leading a 2-on-1 rush with Ondrej Palat, and his open shot from the slot missed wide.
After McDonagh had a turnover at his blue line, he was penalized for tripping. But the play also took Timo Maier, San Jose’s top offensive player, off the ice with a matching embellishment penalty, and the session remained 3-on-3.
Hedman, who was placing relentless pressure on the Sharks through the neutral zone, then cut Alexander Barabanov against the boards as he approached the Lightning blue line. Hedman methodically entered the offensive zone with the puck, waited for his wings — Anthony Cirelli and Steven Stamkos — to approach on either side and then snapped a slow shot from the top of the circles over James Reimer’s glove.
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“I think we have a lot of skill, in our front end and in our back end,” Cirelli said. “So I think with the open ice, it allows our skill guys to make plays and you see Pointer, Pally, Stammer up the ice and Heddy gets the game-winner there. And I think a huge part is having Vasy back there. I mean, he’s making unbelievable saves for us.”
Vasilevskiy is certainly a key — if not the most important ingredient — to the Lightning’s overtime success. He is not only 6-2 in overtime games, he’s allowed just one 3-on-3 goal in 11 overtime or shootout games.
Vasilevskiy allowed a 4-on-3 shorthanded goal in a 2-1 overtime loss Nov. 4 in Toronto, but his only 3-on-3 goal in nearly 34 minutes of overtime ice time was Martin Necas’ goal in a 2-1 loss to Carolina on Nov. 9. Maybe Vasilevskiy’s top save of the year — his stop of Anze Kopitar in a 3-2 win over the Kings on Dec. 14 — came in overtime.
“(The opponent’s) going to get some chances on 3-on-3,” Cirelli said, “and he’s always there to bail us out to give us a chance to win.”
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