TAMPA — Yes, the Lightning are far from a finished product; they still allow too many goals and far too many Grade-A scoring chances. But their 5-4 overtime win over the league-leading Boston Bruins Monday night at Amalie Arena certainly had a satisfying feel to it.
Less than a week ago, following a road shutout loss in St. Louis, they were a floundering team, unable to score and unable to prevent being scored upon. Since then they’ve won three straight, including the past two games in which they came back from a third-period deficit.
“That’s a couple of games in a row we’ve come back and clawed our way back,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “Maybe early in the season, we kind of deflated a little bit. The intensity was there tonight, obviously a big matchup against a really good team.”
On Monday, they blew a 2-1 third-period lead as the Bruins scored two goals in one minute, 21 seconds to take a one-goal lead, and spent the rest of regulation chasing until Stamkos forced overtime with a 6-on-5 goal with 4.8 seconds to play. Forward Brandon Hagel converted on a breakaway 1:19 into the 3-on-3 extra session for the Lightning’s first overtime triumph this season in five tries.
Here are three reasons why Monday night’s win over the Bruins was their biggest of the season.
They finally conquered the overtime hex
A few weeks ago, Hagel said it felt like the Lightning were cursed after an overtime loss to Seattle at home. They had lost their first four overtime games this season, not to mention three home overtime losses to Toronto in the playoffs last season. In fact, the Lightning had lost 10 straight games decided in the 3-on-3 session dating back to last year.
Entering Monday’s game, they had barely even touched the puck in overtime. So when Stamkos won the overtime’s opening faceoff Monday night, the Lightning (9-6-4, 22 points) received a Bronx cheer from the fans at Amalie Arena. Stamkos won a second faceoff 17 seconds in, and the Lightning never gave up the puck.
Victor Hedman circled back to his own blue line awaiting a line change, and when Hagel jumped over the bench, Hedman threaded a pass to him as he crossed the blue line and gained a step on Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy. Hagel had a breakaway earlier in the game and sailed it high, but this time he went five-hole to beat Boston goaltender Jeremy Swayman.
“I thought I would act like I was going high and then go somewhere else,” Hagel said. “I think that was kind of my mindset, especially when you’re coming in all the way from the blue. You got a little bit of time when you know you’re all alone.”
They were resilient in the third period
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The Lightning surrendered three goals in the third, allowing the Bruins to lead by one with 3:51 left in regulation. Still, there was a feeling on the Lightning bench that they could pull this game out, and that’s a swagger this team hasn’t had in the third period this season.
But they knew they weren’t allowing the Bruins much in the third. Boston had just four shots on goal in the period, and seven shot attempts, so the Lightning were certainly limiting them.
Tampa Bay could have become frustrated by not being able to capitalize on some man advantages earlier in the game, including 63 seconds of 5-on-3 time and 81 seconds of 4-on-3. As the final seconds in regulation wound down, they failed to capitalize on a 6-on-4 with a power play and extra attacker with the net emptied.
But Nikita Kucherov, who exited the game midway through the second period with an injury but returned in the start of the third, pinpointed a pass from the near corner through traffic across the ice to Stamkos at the left circle for the overtime-forcing goal with 4.8 seconds remaining.
“You take a peek at the clock, there’s a couple of seconds left,” Stamkos said. “There’s only maybe one other guy in the league that can make that pass, if that. But I know it’s coming or he’s attempting to do it and if it gets through then I’ve got a good chance to put it on net.”
They went toe to toe with the league’s best team
Right now, the Bruins (13-2-2, 28 points) are still the class of the Eastern Conference, and most of the Lightning’s meetings with Boston immediately take on a postseason feel to them. Monday night was no different. The Amalie crowd was raucous — with a noticeable share of Bruins fans included — and it had a physical tone with both teams getting their share of board-rattling hits.
The Lightning got offensive contributions from their bottom-six (goals from Tanner Jeannot and Austin Watson), which was important. But the unsung hero of the night was forward Mikey Eyssimont, who was an itch the Bruins couldn’t scratch all night.
He continued to draw Yanni Gourde vibes by not only being a pest, but also contributing to the win. Eyssimont had a team-high six shots on goal and when he was on the ice in 5-on-5 play, the Lightning outshot Boston 13-2 and out-attempted the Bruins 20-6.
“He’s a menace,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “He’s all over the place and he just doesn’t stop. He’s fearless and combine that with his skill, he really can hold on to the puck. And he just draws a crowds and I thought he had an impact on the game positively tonight.”
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