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Lightning find their ‘old selves’ during goals-fest

“That was the kind of hockey we were accustomed to playing,” Steven Stamkos says of Saturday’s comeback win, highlighted by five unanswered goals.
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman attempts a shot against Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck in the first period Saturday.
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman attempts a shot against Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck in the first period Saturday. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Apr. 17|Updated Apr. 18

TAMPA — An emotional and physical game brought out the version of the Lightning many have been used to watching the past two years: a confident team that doesn’t waver under pressure.

Tampa Bay, trailing by two in the second period Saturday against Winnipeg, scored five unanswered goals en route to a 7-4 win. The Lightning rode some prolific scoring and shutdown defense, limiting the Jets to a game-low four shots on goal in the third period.

“It kind of felt like our old selves a bit in the third in terms of the execution of the plays and the plays we were making,” captain Steven Stamkos said.

The Lightning trailed 4-2 midway through the second period before tying it in a four-minute span heading into the third. They continued the onslaught in the final period with goals by Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Mikhail Sergachev.

“We got down there and we came back again, so that’s nice to see,” Stamkos said. “But hopefully we can just build off that third. That was the kind of hockey we were accustomed to playing and playing with confidence and poise, and just making the right reads and defending hard.”

The Lightning got points from 10 players, including six from the team’s top line — Nick Paul, Brayden Point and Kucherov. Victor Hedman (four assists) and Kucherov (two goals, two assists) finished with a game-high four points.

“(I liked) the way we played as a team,” Kucherov said of the third period. “It felt like the first period and the third, it was different teams playing.”

The production from the top line and contributions from the defense (seven points) were pivotal factors. As were the scrums and fights throughout the game, which seemed to give the Lightning a boost heading into the third period.

Puck possession also was key in the period, and in the final minutes, the defense swarmed the Jets, leaving little room for a comeback.

“When we can play defense fast and get the puck retrievals quick, you still have some energy to go in the offensive zone and make some plays,” Stamkos said. “And I felt like that was probably a big factor for us in the third in doing that.”

Tampa Bay (100 points) leads Boston (97) for third place in the Atlantic Division and trails second-place Toronto (106) and leader Florida (114).

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The Lightning, who clinched a playoff berth Thursday, have seven regular-season games remaining, including matchups against the Maple Leafs and Panthers. But coach Jon Cooper said a good finish doesn’t necessarily equate to wins and losses.

“If we get beat by a goalie, we get beat by a goalie. But are we leaning on teams?” he said. “When you leave (after a game), does it pass the eye test, like, ‘Hey, if we don’t get the points ... we deserve a better fate.’ That’s when you know you’re doing well and not backdooring yourself into wins, so that’ll probably be the indication for us.”

Stamkos hopes Saturday’s finish is a catalyst going forward.

“Hopefully a period like this can just spark us in terms of some individuals who had some success (Saturday) and in the third (period), confidence-wise, going forward,” Stamkos said, “and then as a team to know that we can play at that level.”

Contact Mari Faiello at Follow @faiello_mari.

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