Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps the Bolts 2-1 win in overtime in Detroit
After his Tampa Bay Lightning dropped three straight games at AMALIE Arena, three games they couldn’t afford to lose with a playoff chase coming down to the final days of the regular season, Victor Hedman said the Bolts wouldn’t let the recent skid break them, that they needed to rebound and regroup for a critical two-game back-to-back set in a pair of cities the Lightning historically hadn’t fared well in.
And rebound is exactly what the Lightning did.
Following a 6-3 victory in Boston, a game in which Tampa Bay was forced to rally from a one-goal deficit on three separate occasions, the Lightning downed Detroit 2-1 in overtime a night later, the Bolts again coming from behind with a third period equalizer and an overtime winner from, who else, Nikita Kucherov.
The Lightning have now won all four meetings against Detroit this season and will get a chance to sweep the season series when they host the Red Wings on Thursday.
What can the Bolts take away from a critical win in the Motor City? We’ll break down the highlights from the Bolts’ 36th victory of the season in 3 Things we learned from a farewell to Joe Louis Arena.
1. ONE FINAL MEMORY
You wouldn’t know it from recent results, but Tampa Bay hasn’t exactly been lighting it up in their visits to Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena over its 24 seasons of play.
In fact, coming into Friday’s game, the Lightning owned just five regular season victories at the Joe in 23 tries.
But, of late, the Bolts have been able to reverse their run of poor results in Detroit. Four of the Bolts’ five regular season wins at the Joe have come in the last seven visits. The Lightning went 3-2 at the Joe during their first round playoff series against Detroit each of the last two years.
Tampa Bay continued its trend of recent success in Detroit with a 2-1 overtime win on Friday, the Bolts’ second win in two tries at the Joe this season and the second one to be decided by a late game-winning goal from Nikita Kucherov.
“It just feels good to win this game,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “We had a tough little stretch there where we lost three in a row at home, and you sit here and say every game’s a must win, but let’s be honest, we don’t come out with four points in this, we’re in trouble. To come in on the back-to-back and be down in the third and to gut one out, pretty proud of the guys.”
Over the last four seasons, the Lightning are 8-6-0 at Joe Louis Arena.
Of course, once Tampa Bay finally learns how to win at the Joe, the Red Wings move to a new arena.
All-time, the Lightning close out the iconic arena having gone 6-17-0 with one tie all-time in the regular season at the Joe and 9-19-0 with one tie all-time including playoffs.
2. ROAD WARRIORS
For a team that’s been so tough to beat at home over the last couple of seasons, the Tampa Bay Lightning have turned into a pretty good road team during the second half of 2016-17.
The Bolts’ victory in Detroit on Friday was their fifth-straight win away from AMALIE Arena. The Lightning have earned at least a point in 11 of their last 12 road games, going 8-1-3 over that stretch.
The most impressive aspect of Tampa Bay’s recent results away from home has been their ability to stay calm when falling behind and their resilience to fight back on the road.
That trait was on full display Thursday when the Lightning came from behind three separate times against Boston before scoring three goals in the third period to pull away and win 6-3.
The Lightning repeated the feat a night later in Detroit, rallying from a goal down in the third period when Ondrej Palat was able to net the equalizer at 5:53, this after Henrik Zetterberg gave the Red Wings the 1-0 advantage 8:03 into the second period.
“We just felt we’ve got to be involved a little bit more and had some net-front, maybe some good things would happen and that’s what happened on Palat’s goal,” Cooper said.
Nikita Kucherov completed the comeback in overtime, scoring his seventh goal over the last four games and 17th goal since February 21 after working a well-executed give-and-go with Brayden Point.
“That was the big conversation going into the third period,” Cooper said. “We had the one-goal lead against Arizona the other night and let it slip away, now we’re down a goal, what are we going to do here? The guys just talked about what needed to be done to win a hockey game, and they found a way.”
3 VASY BOUNCES BACK
After being handed the starting goaltending job with the trade of Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings three days before the trade deadline, Andrei Vasilevskiy confirmed the belief the organization had in his ability, winning six of his next seven games following the Bishop trade and making at least 30 saves in six of those seven starts.
But since, his play had cooled considerably. Over his last three starts heading into Friday’s vital showdown in Detroit, Vasilevskiy had lost all three, surrendering four goals in each.
Thus, Vasilevskiy’s bounce-back performance against Detroit, where he made 29-of-30 saves and was supremely in command all night, was almost as important for his confidence as it was for the Bolts’ playoff chances.
Vasilevskiy improved to 18-16-6 on the season.
With Peter Budaj proving he can give the Lightning a quality performance in his spot starts like he did Thursday in Boston and Vasilevskiy returning to form a day later in Detroit, the Lightning are in good hands with their goaltending tandem as they embark on the final eight games of the regular season and, hopefully, beyond.