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Burns: 3 Things from a big victory in the Windy City

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps the Bolts 5-2 win over the Blackhawks

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

After a disappointing result Saturday night in Arizona, the Tampa Bay Lightning entered Chicago in desperate need of a victory to escape the Eastern Conference cellar and end a three-game losing skid.

Trailing 2-1 entering the third period against the Blackhawks, the Lightning put together one of their finest 20-minute performances of the season, scoring four unanswered goals for a 5-2 victory.

The Bolts have now gotten points from 10 consecutive regular season games against Chicago and are 8-0-2 in their last 10 vs. the Blackhawks.

"We just had a passion to go and win this game," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said postgame.

The Bolts will need similar performances over the remainder of the season if they hope to make the playoffs for a fourth-straight season.

So what went right for the Bolts after so much went wrong three nights earlier against the Coyotes?

We'll take a look at the biggest keys to Tuesday's victory in 3 Things we learned from a huge road win in Chicago.

Video: TBL@CHI: Vasilevskiy slides across to deny Panarin

1. ANDREI THE GIANT
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy entered the Chicago game having lost his last six starts. Vasilevskiy, in fact, hadn't won in 2017 yet, his last victory coming in a 26-save performance Dec. 31 versus Carolina.

But Vasilevskiy looked solid in relief of Ben Bishop Saturday night against Arizona, entering for Bishop to start the third period and stopping all six shots he faced to give the Lightning a faint amount of hope for a comeback.

Vasilevskiy carried over that effort from Arizona into Chicago, where he was spectacular.

The 22-year old Russian netminder made 34 saves on 36 shots to spearhead the Bolts' three-goal victory. But it was his play when the Lightning were trailing 2-1 that was most important.

Chicago had numerous opportunities to push its advantage to two goals, but Vasilevskiy came up with a number of big-time saves to keep the Bolts within striking distance.

It seemed any time the Blackhawks threatened to blow the game open, Vasilevskiy was there to quell the threat.

"Big thing for me was, Vasilevskiy gave us a lot of life," said Cooper, who mentioned Vasilevskiy's play in three of his four answers post game, despite none of the questions directly referring to Vasilevskiy. "He made us a little taller on the bench and kept us in the position to be able to come back like we did, and that's what you need from your goalie."

Chicago had 36 shots on the night and its number of Grade-A scoring chances pushed well into the double digits.

Without Vasilevskiy's sterling performance, the Lightning likely lose this game by multiple goals.

"Some nights you need your goaltender to be your best player, and he was tonight," Cooper said.

 Video: TBL@CHI: Johnson goes top shelf on Crawford in 3rd

2. 3RD PERIOD DESPERATION

The Lightning trailed 2-1 as the third period began and were 20 minutes from a fourth-consecutive loss and a further slip in the Eastern Conference standings.

With time running out for the Bolts to make a push for the playoffs, Tuesday's third period was shaping up to be one of the more critical 20-minute sessions of the season.

The Lightning responded with maybe their best third-period effort all season, netting four goals, including three within a 3:57 span, to run away from the Blackhawks, the second-best team points-wise in the Western Conference currently.

"We felt we were getting chances in the game, we just had to stick with it," Cooper said. "What did we score, three goals in four minutes? That'll take the life out of you. We kind of sucked the life out of the building a little bit."

Nikita Nesterov got the third period onslaught started with his third goal of the season at 2:47 of the final period, a laser of a shot from beyond the right circle that beat Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford low to the far post, Nesterov has been increasing his scoring production of late with points in three of his last four games.

Then Tyler Johnson scored back-to-back goals 30 seconds apart, both set up by wonderful feeds from Alex Killorn, to give the Lightning their first lead and extend it.

Late in the game with the Chicago net empty, Nikita Kucherov pushed home his team-leading 18th goal of the season to seal the much-needed victory.

"Johnny's been playing hard, and for them to go in the net tonight was huge for us," Cooper said of Johnson's game. "But we showed a lot of passion going to the net in the third. We played really fast. Even Killorn was big on the forecheck on the one where he flicked it around the guy and picked it up."

The four goals in the third matched a season high for goals in a period for the Lightning set in the third period on Opening Night (Oct. 13) in a 6-4 victory over Detroit.

 Video: TBL@CHI: Boyle dekes Crawford to bury terrific goal

3. BOLTS SHOW RESILIENCY

There were a couple of moments in Tuesday's game where the Lightning could have hung their head and thought, "Here we go again."

Chicago scored midway through the first period to take a 1-0 lead and force the Lightning to play from behind, something they've have plenty of experience with this season.

After leveling the score 1-1 on Brian Boyle's backhand-to-forehand beauty to beat Crawford, Chicago again nudged in front, Duncan Keith scoring early in the second period not long after Boyle's tying goal for a 2-1 Blackhawks advantage

The Bolts had played pretty well through the first 20-plus minutes in Chicago like they have throughout the six-game road trip (save for Arizona), yet again found themselves behind despite their improved effort. It would have been easy for a struggling Tampa Bay team to throw in the towel, resigned to their fate of another close-but-not-good-enough loss.

Instead, they dug deep and showed, in the process, they still have plenty of life left in them.

"This is desperation mode for us, and this was a winnable hockey game," Cooper said. "We felt every one of these games on this trip has been winnable. And unfortunately, we only have two wins to show for it, but a lot of good things came from tonight."

The most important thing to come out of the Chicago win? Two more points

If the Bolts can get another two on Thursday in Sunrise when they close out the six-game road trip, it would be their first back-to-back wins since Dec. 20-22.

And more than anything, the Lightning need to put together a win streak to start making up ground in the playoff chase.

"These guys have been at it," Cooper said. "They keep fighting, and if we can sneak one out in Florida, it's a pretty darn good road trip for us."   

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