The Tampa Bay Lightning continued to stay alive in the chase for the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs following a 6-3 victory over the Dallas Stars Sunday night at AMALIE Arena.
The Bolts, however, aren't getting much help from teams they're trying to catch in the standings. Boston won its fifth game in a row Sunday afternoon, defeating Chicago 3-2. Currently, Tampa Bay is three points behind Toronto and Ottawa for third place in the Atlantic Division/the second wild card, but the Maple Leafs and Senators each own a game in hand on the Bolts. The Bruins are four points in front of the Bolts, but Tampa Bay owns a game in hand.
Quite simply, the Lightning cannot afford to drop another game with four contests remaining in the regular season.
The Bolts did their part on Sunday, overcoming a sluggish second period to score four goals in the third, tied for the most they've put up in a period this season.
What changed for the Lightning in the final period?
We'll break down the highlights in 3 Things we learned from defeating Dallas.
Video: DAL@TBL: Coburn pots rebound past Lehtonen, ties game
1. THE GAME-CHANGER
After scoring the opening goal for the first time since March 14 at Ottawa, the Lightning were listless for large stretches of the second period, and Dallas capitalized, first tying the game on Gemel Smith's goal 1:49 into the middle period and going in front 2-1 on Jason Spezza's 14th tally of the season midway through the period.
Dallas nearly had another goal during the first 10 minutes of the second period as Smith got in alone on goal during a Bolts' power play and scored on Peter Budaj. That goal, though was challenged by the Lightning coaching staff and ultimately deemed to be offside upon video review.
Still, Dallas controlled play throughout the second period and looked to take the lead into the second intermission.
That is until Brayden Coburn provided the Bolts with a jolt of energy, netting a rebound with 18 seconds to go before the break to send the teams to the locker room tied 2-2 after 40 minutes.
With the game now tied, the Lightning recommitted themselves during the intermission and pulled away from the Stars in the final period. But without Coburn's late-period equalizer, it's hard to predict whether the Bolts would have had that same energy down a goal with 20 minutes to go.
All of which is to say, Coburn's goal was the most important tally of the game.
"We still had the feeling we could come back," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "But, as I said, we had a really good four or five minutes there before that goal. To be rewarded, it was big."
Video: DAL@TBL: Dotchin, Point combine for slick goal in 3rd
2. YOUNGSTERS CONTINUE TO CONTRIBUTE
Sunday was Kids Day at AMALIE Arena, but not just for the fans.
The Lightning continued to roll on Sunday despite missing several key members of their team during this final stretch of the season. The Bolts got Tyler Johnson back after he missed the previous 11 games and Jason Garrison also returned to action, although he had to be shut down going into the third because of concerns he could re-aggravate his injury.
But the Lightning were still without Steven Stamkos, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. In their place, a group of youngsters targeted for the AHL before the season has come up to the NHL and proved their value time and time again.
On Sunday, Adam Erne scored a pair of goals for the first multi-goal game of his career. Rookie forward Brayden Point, who made the team out of training camp, netted a goal, his 14th of the season. Fellow rookies Jake Dotchin and Yanni Gourde tallied assists, Gourde extending his point streak to four games.
Without the contributions from their AHL callups over the last month or so of the season, it's likely the Lightning wouldn't even be fighting for a spot in the playoffs at this point in the season.
The rookies have kept the Bolts afloat while the veterans work to return.
"We've needed them, in just different ways," Cooper said. "You've got to be really happy for Adam Erne who's been chipping away, chipping away, chipping away and doesn't really have any points to show for it. He makes a really strong move to the net for the first goal and just threw a puck at the net for the second and it went in for him. He deserved his breaks tonight. The Yanni Gourde's, you go down the list of the guys that have really helped us out, but you look at that secondary scoring that you need, we needed that."
Lightning rookies accounted for three of the Bolts' six goals and five of their 16 points.
Clearly, the moment has not been too big for them.
"I think we know we can do it, it's just a matter of doing it and having the confidence to go out there and do it," Erne said. "We want to contribute. We don't want to just be passengers here on a run like this, and, luckily, that is what we've been able to do."
Video: DAL@TBL: Erne nets second goal on spin-o-rama in 3rd
3. SEASON ON THE LINE
The Lightning could ill-afford to lose Sunday's game versus Dallas. Not only would falling to the Stars represent another devastating loss to one of the worst teams in the Western Conference - the Bolts finished 1-5-0 against Colorado, Arizona and Vancouver, the three worst teams in the West - but it would have all-but dashed their playoff hopes with the Bruins and Leafs continuing to win.
With the game tied 2-2 and 20 minutes to play, Cooper challenged his players to lay it all on the line and keep the playoffs in sight.
The Bolts responded with four goals to pull away.
"It just comes down to our season and that was it," Cooper said "That was the discussion in the room was, 'Do you want to give yourself a chance to play past next Sunday?' So, if you don't, then play the way we did in the second. If you do, play the way we did in the third."
The Lightning now hit the road for three more must-win games, all against Atlantic Division opponents when they face Boston on Tuesday, Toronto on Thursday and Montreal Friday. Those games would have been rendered nearly meaningless, however, if the Bolts weren't able to prevail on Sunday.
"That response in the third, the guys showed their will, and it paid off," Cooper said.