TAMPA — The night belonged to Steven Stamkos, as the captain scored the winning goal in the Lightning’s 4-2 win over the Wild Tuesday at Amalie Arena after being honored for reaching the 500-goal mark.
But without the contributions of Tampa Bay’s second power-play unit, Stamkos might not have been able to take the postgame spotlight as the first star of the game.
The unit is used to doing the dirty work, often coming onto the ice for less than a minute of man-advantage time after the star-studded group of Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point starts a power play with all eyes on it.
But Tuesday, the second unit kept the Lightning in the game. Corey Perry deflected a pair of Ross Colton shots from the perimeter into the net in the second period, tying the score at 2 heading to the third, where Tampa Bay has won 10 of 15 games when entering the final period tied (it is 16-1-1 when leading after two).
“I’ve been working on it in practice,” Perry said of the net-front tip-ins that led to his first two-goal game since Dec. 5, 2021. “Been taking a lot of shots standing in front, and it paid off (Tuesday).”
Tampa Bay, which enters Thursday’s game against Boston having won 10 straight at Amalie Arena, is 7-0 this season when Perry scores.
The Lightning power play entered Tuesday ranked second in the NHL but hadn’t scored with the man-advantage in the four games heading into the matchup with the Wild, going 0-for-11 over that stretch. At Monday’s practice and Tuesday’s morning skate, power-play work was a priority.
The night didn’t start off well for the second unit. The first group to take the ice on the Lightning’s first full power play, it struggled to control the puck in the offensive zone and Minnesota’s penalty-kill pressure led to a turnover at the blue line and a shorthanded goal by Joel Eriksson Ek to open the scoring.
“After that, they went on fire and they got us back into that game,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “And the first unit gets a lot of credit for a lot of the success we have. But there’s also another unit out there, and we needed them (Tuesday) and they delivered.”
If the second unit learned anything from allowing the shorthanded goal, it was that there wasn’t going to be much space or time to create. They’d be better suited possessing the puck instead of passing to find the perfect look and getting the puck quickly to the net.
On Perry’s first goal, he had little time to work, with him and Colton going over the boards with about 45 seconds left in the power play. Perry went straight to the front of the net and had his blade in the crease for Stamkos’ final one-timer before the captain went to the bench, but Minnesota goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stopped the puck with his left pad.
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After the ensuring clear, the rest of the second unit joined Perry and Colton on the ice. Nick Paul won a puck battle in traffic down low and passed to Mikhail Sergachev at the left point. Sergachev then found Colton for a one-timer at the right circle.
Colton launched a bullet, sailing the shot slightly, but Perry redirected the puck off the bottom of his shaft past Fleury to tie the game at 1 just seconds after Minnesota’s Ryan Hartman exited the penalty box (making it an even-strength goal).
“That’s what he does,” Perry said of Colton. “He can let it fly. I don’t know if I was trying to get out of the way or what I was trying to do, but it hit my stick, goes into the net, and I’ll take it.”
Perry’s second goal was well-timed, coming with the Lightning trailing 2-1 and 1:55 left in the physical, penalty-filled second period.
Perry had just passed up an open shot from the right circle, instead making a bad pass into traffic that sent the puck the other way. But he recovered the puck in his own end and fed Colton, who rushed it through the neutral zone and rifled a shot from the left circle. Colton stayed with the play, circling behind the net and getting the puck back from Alex Killorn before launching a slap shot from the right point.
Colton’s shot was lower and more difficult for Fleury to track with Perry positioned at the top of the crease. Perry again swiped his stick down and redirected the puck off his shaft into the net with just eight seconds remaining on the power play for his eighth goal of the season.
“I’ll take it any way I can,” Perry said. “It’s just working at it, and it paid off.”
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