Despite allowing its opponent to score first for the sixth consecutive game, the Tampa Bay Lightning was able to snap its six-game winless streak Saturday afternoon against the Florida Panthers.
Similarly to its previous two games, where the Lightning fell short to the Montreal Canadiens in a shootout and the Washington Capitals in regulation, Tampa Bay waited until the third period to kick-start the comeback attempt.
This time, they were able to finish the comeback, with forward Benoit Pouliot scoring his second goal of the game in overtime to help the Bolts beat the Panthers for the sixth straight time in the series.
Defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron’s shot took an odd bounce off the boards that wound up in front of the net for the crashing Pouliot, who scored to give Tampa Bay a 6-5 victory before Florida goaltender Jose Theodore realized where the puck had gone.
A high-scoring outcome seemed likely from the start when Florida center Shawn Matthias (3) deflected the shot of defenseman Mike Weaver through goalie Anders Lindback’s legs for a 1-0 lead just 48 seconds into the game.
Pouliot (4) tied the game just four minutes later when he was left alone in front of the net and used his quick hands to beat Theodore.
Tampa Bay center Alex Killorn scored his first career goal early in the first as well after defenseman Matt Carle made a nice play to keep the puck in the offensive zone, feeding a driving Killorn who beat Theodore stick side, giving the Bolts a 2-1 lead.
The Lightning had enough decent stretches in the first period to go into the break with a lead but it was Lindback who kept them in the game, making 10 of 11 saves and keeping Florida from scoring on a great shorthanded attempt.
Both teams traded goals early in the second, with forward Jack Skille (2) scoring on a two-on-one for the Panthers and center Steven Stamkos (8) scoring on a rebound for Tampa Bay.
Stamkos’ goal extended his goal-scoring streak against the Panthers to seven games.
It appeared the Bolts would escape the period with a 3-2 lead before a hungry Florida team tied the game with just 4.2 seconds remaining. Forward Jerred Smithson (1) scored on a rebound that leaked out in front of Lindback, beating center Nate Thompson to the puck and slamming it home.
In the third, two early goals by center Jonathan Huberdeau (6) and forward Tomas Kopecky (3) extended the Panthers lead to 5-3.
Tampa Bay knew they were not down and out yet and was not ready to quit.
“We never give up,” Purcell told Sun Sports. “We keep fighting until the bitter end.”
Following a series of penalties that gave the Lightning a 4-on-3 chance, Stamkos (9) scored his second goal of the game at 07:28 on his trademark one-time slap shot that flew over Theodore’s shoulder.
It seemed the Lightning would not be able to complete the comeback, laboring for the final ten minutes, unable to tie the game at full strength.
Forced to pull Lindback for the 6-on-5 opportunity, the Lightning went on all-out attack for the final minute. Forward Teddy Purcell (4) scored to tie it at 19:49, beating Theodore over his left shoulder and completing an exhilarating comeback that sent the game to overtime.
The Lightning carried their momentum into the extra period, with Pouliot (5) scoring at 01:16 to win it for Tampa Bay. Pouliot, who had two goals in the game, was named the first star.
Purcell, Stamkos and forward Martin St. Louis also registered multiple points in the game for Tampa Bay.
The victory improved Tampa Bay to 5-0-1 within the Southeast Division and moved them to within two points of the first-place Carolina Hurricanes.
The Bolts will now head back home for a Tuesday night match-up with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who own one of the best road records in the league at 6-2-0. The Maple Leafs will be on the second night of a back-to-back after playing Florida Monday night.
The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. ET.
The Panthers will take Sunday to prepare for the 7:30 p.m. ET puck drop for their game against Toronto Monday night. The match-up concludes a 4-game home stand for Florida.