TAMPA — Lightning coach Jon Cooper briefly was worried that Ryan McDonagh might help Nashville beat Tampa Bay on Thursday night without even being on the ice.
The Lightning had jumped out to a quick two-goal lead midway through the first period when the team played a video tribute for McDonagh, the lockdown defenseman who was an anchor on Tampa Bay’s back-to-back Stanley Cup teams and was traded to Nashville in the offseason to clear cap space. McDonagh couldn’t play Thursday, sidelined by a puck to the face Saturday, but watched from a suite.
Sporting a black right eye and face still swollen from his injury, McDonagh received a standing ovation. He waved to the crowd, clearly moved and fighting back tears.
Sixteen seconds later, the Lightning gave up their league-high seventh shorthanded goal, and their momentum was sliced in half. Nashville scored the next goal, and suddenly the Lightning went into the third period having to fight for the win.
“To be honest with you, what derailed us, what derailed me anyway, was the McDonagh tribute,” Cooper said. “It was like the worst timing ever. We were rolling. I don’t know if there’s a dry eye on the bench. It was pretty moving and then we coincidentally give up a shorthanded goal right after. So I blame Mac. He had his imprint on the game sitting in the stands.”
The Lightning overcame it all in the end, scoring three goals in the third period on their way to a 5-2 win and 300th consecutive sellout at Amalie Arena.
“At the end of the day, you’re going into the third period in a tie game,” said forward Brandon Hagel, who capped the scoring with the Lightning’s first shorthanded goal of the season. “...I think we stayed positive, stayed confident.”
Brayden Point scored twice, including the go-ahead goal, breaking a 2-2 tie 2:14 into the final period. Steven Stamkos’ two assists extended his point streak to 12 games, and he became the third Lightning player to collect two point streaks of 12 or more games, joining Nikita Kucherov and Marty St. Louis. Cooper became the fastest coach in NHL history to reach 450 career wins.
Lightning backup goaltender Brian Elliott stopped 34 of 36 shots, including all 17 he faced in the third period, winning his sixth straight start.
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Trying to find combinations that worked, Cooper shuffled his forward lines three times over the course of the game.
“I think a lot of us have been together, whether it was last year or this year, and I think we’re just able to adapt,” Hagel said. “Obviously, the coaching staff is doing what’s best for us.”
With the score tied, Elliott stopped Jordan Gross on a 2-on-1 breakaway 92 seconds into the third period, and shortly after that, a pass from Anthony Cirelli sprung Point into the offensive zone and gave the Lightning a 2-on-1. Point teased a cross-ice pass to Cirelli, locking eyes toward his teammate to his right, then instead flicked a wrister from near the left dot on the short side past Nashville goaltender Juuse Saros.
“(It’s) just supporting in the defensive zone, really,” Elliott said of what led to the Lightning’s third-period push. “When guys are in the right spots, you can make those 5- to 10-foot passes. You may not be skating that fast, but it moves the puck up the ice really fast. So that’s what we’ve tried to do in practice and games.
“When teams are all over you, it feels like you can’t get that going. But when you’re in the right spots, it tends to happen pretty easily.”
Nick Paul provided a two-goal cushion, launching a shot from above the right circle, top shelf past Saros far side 7:10 into the third.
And Hagel, whose relentlessness on the penalty kill has allowed him several shorthanded breakaways this season, raced to a loose puck near the boards in the neutral zone, faked a dump attempt and turned inside into open ice, outracing two Nashville defenders and beating Saros on the glove side just under the bar.
“Finally,” Hagel said of scoring the team’s first shorthanded goal, with 4:20 left in the game. “I’ve had how many breakaways and of course that one goes in with the most pressure on me. To finally get it out of the way, I feel like we’re not cursed anymore. Maybe a few more will go in now.”
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