CHICAGO — Brandon Hagel knew the emotions would hit him at some point Tuesday night in his first game in Chicago as an opposing player.
It didn’t take long for the forward, who has blossomed in his first full season with the Lightning following last March’s deadline deal with the Blackhawks. It all hit him during the national anthem at the United Center, where it is a tradition for the fans to cheer through Jim Cornelison’s booming rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.
“The anthem always gets you,” Hagel said. “My very first game here, that’s what gave me the butterflies and that kind of reminded me of my first game in the NHL … It was obviously a little bit emotional. This is where my career started. This is the organization that gave me the opportunity to live my dream.”
But as the Lightning struggled out of the gate against the lowly Blackhawks, Hagel wondered whether he’d have a happy homecoming. Tampa Bay was sluggish early, outshot 12-6 in the first period and lucky to be tied at 1 going into the first intermission.
Then Hagel had an open net gift-wrapped for him early in the second period, but he pinged his shot off the left part of the crossbar, one of three posts the Lightning hit in a second period that saw 28 Tampa Bay shot attempts.
“I thought that was maybe just my luck,” Hagel said. “For some reason I tried to shoot it as hard as I can and it went right off the crossbar. That’s usually not the play, but it’s what it is. And I got one later.”
As good teams do, the Lightning found their groove in the third period, and Hagel assisted on Alex Killorn’s game-winning goal then added an insurance score in Tampa Bay’s three-goal third period for a 4-1 win over the Blackhawks.
“You get to the third period tied and you’re tempting fate a little bit when we weren’t scoring those goals in the second,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “You’re going into a game tied in the third and there’s two points on the table, you’ve got to get something out of it, and fortunately we got both.”
The Lightning (24-11-1, 49 points) would have been unsettled with a loss to a Blackhawks team that ranks last in the league in point percentage, scoring and home wins, especially on the front end of back-to-back road games before traveling to Minnesota. It wasn’t by the book, but the Lightning managed to start their three-game, four-day road trip with two points.
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At the 7:11 mark in the third, Hagel took the puck into the offensive zone and across the right circle and found Killorn cutting to the net in front of him. Killorn’s initial shot was stopped by Chicago goaltender Alex Stalock, but Killorn recovered his own rebound and snapped it into the back of the net while stumbling over Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy.
“It was just sitting there,” said Killorn, who has four goals in his last five games. “You typically don’t get those rebounds around your stick. Just fortunate it came right to me.”
Hagel then scored his 15th goal of the season on the power play with 9:46 remaining in regulation, the Lightning’s only man-advantage conversion in four opportunities Tuesday night.
Steven Stamkos’ initial shot attempt from the left circle was blocked by Murphy, and Brayden Point won the ensuing puck battle and flung a backhand to the front of the net, where Hagel had gained inside positioning on Blackhawks defenseman Jack Johnson and tipped it in.
After Hagel committed a holding penalty in the final minutes of regulation, Nick Paul scored a short-handed, empty-net goal with 66 seconds to play.
“I was so happy for him for 58 minutes until he took the penalty with two minutes left,” Cooper said of Hagel. “He wasn’t here a super long time, but I thought he had an impact and he’s having that same impact for us and he’s such a great kid. It’s great for him.”
It did seem like the Lightning were snake-bitten in the second. Not only did Hagel hit a crossbar, but both Mikhail Sergachev and Nikita Kucherov struck iron in a tied game.
“That’s still gonna build momentum in a way,” Hagel said. “I think you’re getting your chances, you’re getting your looks, so you know they’re gonna come, they’re gonna keep coming and that’s what happened tonight. They eventually came and we were able to finish them.”
Tampa Bay goaltender Brian Elliott stopped the last 21 shots he faced in a 25-save night.
The Lightning have won nine of 12 games this season when they have entered the third period tied.
“The pressure is higher as the game ticks down and you’re in the third period in a tie game or whatever it may be,” Killorn said. “I think we’ve played in a lot of high-pressure situations within the past couple of years, so we embrace those moments.”
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