Lightning Hold On, Defeat Panthers in OT

Bolts have now played six straight games that went to overtime

With over half the extra period expired, it started to seem as though the Lightning were headed for their second straight shootout. Brayden Point had other ideas.

Point faked the defender so badly that the defenseman was no longer an issue. The Lightning’s young scorer then proceeded to undress Roberto Luongo and put home Tampa Bay’s fifth goal of the night, giving them the overtime victory.

“A good pass by (Anton) Stralman, and I make a move around the defenseman, and just put one on net and it goes top shelf.” Point’s postgame comments made it seem easy, but the goal is one of the highlights of the entire Lightning season to this point, from the move that erased a defenseman to the toe drag that made Roberto Luongo an afterthought.

The Lightning have been to overtime in their last six games. They have ended up on the winning side of five of those.

Tampa Bay Lightning center Yanni Gourde, center, celebrates his goal against the Florida Panthers with center Brayden Point, left, and defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, of Russia,, right, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 6, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

In the first period, it was obvious that the Lightning have had some time to work on their hockey during this homestand. After surrendering six goals on Saturday in a classic against the Flyers, Tampa Bay seemed acutely aware of their defensive positioning, not letting a Panthers player get in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy unattended until Florida went on their first power play of the night.

It was Yanni Gourde who got the scoring started for the Lightning, with a goal that served as proof positive that chaos in front of the opposing net causes goals. Gourde was in front of the net when a puck bounced off the boards behind the goal straight to him. He tapped it past Roberto Luongo to put the Lightning ahead 1-0. They would make it 2-0 a few minutes later, when a completely unforced turnover by the Panthers found Yanni Gourde with the puck behind the net. Gourde passed it to J.T. Miller, who kicked the puck onto his stick and put a backhand shot in to double the Lightning lead.

The Panthers got a goal back in the first when Nick Bjugstad put an odd angle goal off Andrei Vasilevskiy’s helmet that bounced behind the goalie and into the goal. The Panthers’ lone goal came on 18 first period shots.

It was quite the night for rookie Yanni Gourde. The forward got his second goal of the game in the second period, a wrist shot with nobody around him that found its way into the net. The second goal tied him with Tyler Johnson for the most goals in a rookie season by a member of the Lightning at 24. With plenty of season still left, it’s all but a certainty Gourde will go on to break the record. The young forward might also challenge Vancouver Canucks sensation Brock Boeser for the rookie lead in goals, with Boeser out for the season with an injury that looked like it could have been even worse than it was.

Tampa Bay’s newfound positioning and patience was put to the test in the second period. The Panthers pressed the action in the second, adding to their shot total and peppering Vasilevskiy in the process. Like so many teams this season, the Panthers at a point in the second just resorted to chucking the puck in on Vasilevskiy. By the end of the second, Miami’s team with the statewide name had tallied 32 shots on net, though they never really felt like they were in control.

For the Panthers, it was Nick Bjugstad leading the charge.   The 25 year-old American scored the first Panthers goal of the night on a shot from along the goal line, getting a bounce on an odd angle. He’d end up with a hat trick, scoring in the second period by just getting one around and by Vasilevskiy and again on the third period on a goal helped by Victor Hedman losing his balance.

That third period goal came almost right after the period began, and the Panthers continued to ride that momentum early in the period. After a penalty to Andrej Sustr, the Panthers’ powerful man advantage struck with a goal from Vincent Trocheck that tied it up at 4. From there, the Lightning seemed to get control of the action back, as they knocked on the door in hopes that Roberto Luongo would let one in. He almost did with about 7:30 to go, as a shot got by him but hit the post behind him to bounce innocently wide.

The game reached overtime. It was the sixth straight Tampa Bay Lightning game to have an extra session.

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, (88), of Russia, reacts after the Florida Panthers tie the game during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 6, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning won the game 5-4 in overtime. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Ryan McDonagh still has yet to make his Lightning debut. With many predicting he would be able to play his first game for the Lightning on Tuesday night, it’s unclear when the newly-acquired defenseman will be ready. He has not been ruled out for Thursday night, and would certainly love to play against his old team, but it remains to be seen if the Lightning think he’s healthy enough or ready enough.

The Tampa Bay homestand continues. On Thursday night, the New York Rangers come to town for their second game at Amalie Arena this year. The Rangers won in overtime the first time around, 2-1 on November 2. The game-winning goal was scored by J.T. Miller. The game will also mark Vladislav Namestnikov’s return to Tampa Bay after being traded at the deadline.

The NHL record for consecutive games sent to overtime is seven, shared by the 2003-04 Edmonton Oilers and the 2008-09 Toronto Maple Leafs.

Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.