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Forget the slump, the Lightning show spirit and fight in OT loss to Vegas

Tampa Bay scores two goals in the final two minutes to send the game to overtime after refs send 10 players to the showers following a massive brawl.
Lightning left wing Tanner Jeannot (84) drops the gloves and fights Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb (3) during the second period Thursday at Amalie Arena.
Lightning left wing Tanner Jeannot (84) drops the gloves and fights Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb (3) during the second period Thursday at Amalie Arena. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Mar. 10|Updated Mar. 10

TAMPA — In the end, it was another loss. A thrilling, violent, inspiring, optimistic loss.

This was the game you were waiting for. This was the team you remembered. For most of the night, the Lightning played fast, smart and tough. They were aggressive, controlled and patient.

The fact that they lost 4-3 in overtime to Vegas on Thursday for their ninth loss in the past 12 games was almost incidental by the time the final whistle was blown.

“Honestly, I liked everything about our game,” coach Jon Cooper said. “We deserved points out of that game.”

Heck, they might have deserved medals. The Lightning (38-21-6, 82 points) were mostly dominant for two periods, had a bad break and a lull early in the third, then fought both literally and figuratively to get back in the game with two goals in the final 127 seconds to send it to overtime.

The rest of the world will look at headlines this morning and assume Tampa Bay’s month-long funk is still ongoing, but the truth is more nuanced than that. This was the kind of game that successful playoff teams often look back on as a turning point.

Tampa Bay may have won a 5-2 blowout against Philadelphia on Tuesday night, but the loss to the Golden Knights was far more uplifting for a team that has been looking to reestablish its identity.

“You look at that little (losing) slide we had, and this was a completely different team,” Cooper said. “I thought we were way better (Thursday) than we were against Philadelphia. It’s the best we’ve played in a while, so I’m glad we got something out of this because we deserved it.”

What was so impressive about this game for Tampa Bay? Take your pick.

It could be the way it controlled the puck and limited Vegas to nine shots on net through the first two periods. It could be the clutch goals from Brayden Point — who scored twice and matched his career high with 41 goals — and Nikita Kucherov in the final 2:07 to force the overtime. It could be the way everyone dropped their gloves and rallied around each other when things turned nasty.

“Guys fought on the ice, stepped up for their teammates and got kicked out of the game,” said defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. “That was a big moment for us, it got us going a little bit.”

While the game was tied 1-1 for more than 35 minutes, the Lightning dominated the pace. They struggled to get their power play going but had outshot Vegas 18-4 at one point.

Midway through the second period, the tone shifted perceptibly when Tanner Jeannot knocked Vegas star Jack Eichel down twice on the same shift. Defenseman Brayden McNabb took offense and squared off against Jeannot in a brief fight that led to a Lightning power play.

Later, Shea Theodore was called for a double minor after a high stick caught Pat Maroon in the face with 21 seconds remaining in the second period. As the buzzer sounded, Alex Pietrangelo spun and tripped Kucherov as he skated toward the Vegas net. Steven Stamkos immediately cross-checked Pietrangelo and knocked him to the ice as scuffles broke out all around and set the stage for the third period.

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The Lightning were still on the McNabb power play early in the third when the puck bounced over Sergachev’s stick at the blue line and set Vegas off on a 2-on-1 rush — aided by what suspiciously looked like an interference penalty that went uncalled — that led to William Karlsson’s tie-breaking goal.

It was the 11th shorthanded goal the Lightning have surrendered this season, which is the most they’ve given up in Cooper’s 10 seasons in Tampa Bay.

“Got bit by the shorthanded goal bug again,” Cooper said.

Vegas eventually extended the lead to 3-1 before a massive brawl broke out in the final eight minutes of regulation. Maroon popped Keegan Kolesar in the face after a hit from behind, and that led to multiple fights that took several minutes for officials to break up. Maroon, Haydn Fleury, Corey Perry, Zach Bogosian and Michael Eyssimont all got 10-minute game misconduct penalties, along with five Vegas players.

“You haven’t seen that picture of all the gloves and sticks on the ice in a long time. It brought you back to the 80s,” Cooper said. “I told the guys that whole melee, even though we were short out of it, it gave us a boost.”

After Kucherov scored, the Lightning got a break with a Vegas high-sticking penalty. With goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy pulled from the game, the Lightning tied the score on Point’s second goal during the 6-on-4 situation.

Vegas, which is currently the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, won it with 1:51 remaining in overtime when Alec Martinez had a shot trickle past Vasilevskiy across the goal line.

“I liked our response,” Point said. “Everyone was in it, sticking up for each other.”

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampbay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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