The news Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos would miss the next six to eight weeks as he has surgery Monday to repair a core muscle injury came out right as the puck dropped between the Lightning and the Calgary Flames at AMALIE Arena Saturday afternoon, casting a pall over the sellout crowd in attendance.
Against the Flames, the Lightning discovered the formula they'll have to use to keep winning without Stamkos: win the special teams battle, get scoring contributions throughout the lineup, make timely saves and respond when the opposition swings momentum.
Tampa Bay did all four versus Calgary to pull out of a four-game losing skid and win 4-3, improving to 41-19-5 on the season.
The Lightning never trailed in the contest. They built a three-goal advantage by the midpoint of the contest, watched as Calgary dissolved the lead to one in a 52-second span and had an answer to stem the tide and bring the game back in their favor.
Stamkos will likely miss the rest of the regular season and maybe even a playoff round or two as he recovers from surgery.
The Lightning will have to rally in his absence.
Saturday's win over the Flames was a good start.
Video: CGY@TBL: Johnson tips shot past Rittich for PPG
1. REVAMPED POWER PLAY HAS SUCCESS
The Lightning featured a new look on the power play, partly because of the absence of Stamkos and partly because of the ineffectiveness of the unit since the start of 2020.
Nikita Kucherov slid over to Stamkos' spot in the left circle. Brayden Point set up in Kucherov's old spot in the right circle. Mikhail Sergachev ran the point with Tyler Johnson in the slot and Anthony Cirelli down low.
The combination worked, at least for one night.
The Lightning scored their first two goals on the power play and went 2-for-4 overall on the man-advantage to spark their 4-3 victory.
"I liked a lot of the things we were doing, we just needed that bounce," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "And that's what we talked about, we're going to get the bounce. We just can't keep going like this. Literally we got the bounce on the first one and good play on the second one. It's too good to keep it down for long."
With about six minutes left in the first period, Sergachev took possession of the puck center point on the Bolts' first power play and ripped a shot. Johnson was waiting in the middle to tip the puck with his stick and send it past Calgary goalie David Rittich to get the Lightning on the board and end a three-game drought on the power play.
"We talked about sometimes it's not always the prettiest of plays but those are the most effective and then you kind of go from there," Johnson said. "For it to work obviously you get a little bit of confidence there, and we start to roll."
The second power-play goal was more of the pretty passing sequence we're using to seeing from the Lightning. Anthony Cirelli worked the puck across to Ondrej Palat coming off the bench. Palat quickly centered to Sergachev at the point, who kept the puck moving to Kucherov skating into the left circle. Kucherov spotted Palat all alone in the right circle and laced a cross-ice pass to him, Palat needing a touch to corral the bouncing puck before firing off a shot that beat Rittich.
Two power plays, two goals for the Lightning in the opening half of the game.
"We felt we've been doing some good things, they weren't going in," Cooper said. "You've got to remember, there's a team there defending. But you start getting a little confidence now when they start going in, and I think they get a little more comfortable in their spots. We've moved guys around in different situations. It's just going to take a little bit more repetition, but I liked a lot what happened tonight."
Video: CGY@TBL: Gourde nets far-side wrister for SHG
2. SHORTY TORE IT UP
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said special teams probably cost his team its previous two contests.
If that's the case, special teams were the reason the Bolts won over Calgary.
Not only did the Lightning manage to find the back of the net on their first two power plays, they extended the lead to 3-0 at 11:50 of the second period their first time on the penalty kill on Yanni Gourde's shorthanded goal.
Newcomers Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow helped set up the shorthanded scoring play. Goodrow intercepted a pass to get a breakaway, which was denied by Rittich. Seconds later, Coleman and Goodrow ignited a 2-on-1 break. The pair were unable to capitalize, but they had possession of the puck, meaning Calgary didn't. And the puck was in the Flames' end of the ice and not near Tampa Bay's net.
A few moments after, Gourde went on a rush with Cedric Paquette, took the shot himself from the top of the right circle and ripped a shot into the back of the net for his 10th goal of the season with just three seconds remaining on the penalty to Mikhail Sergachev.
"Me and Goodie had two good looks, obviously got to finish them off," Coleman said. "Gourdo and Ceddy jumped out right away and buried it. It's a big deal. I think shorthanded goals are game-changers, and obviously a heck of a shot by Gourdo."
In the first half of the game, the Lightning scored three times, netting a pair of power-play goals and adding a shorthanded tally. After the disastrous special teams play over the last few games, a big night from the power play and the penalty kill combined turned out to be the boost the Lightning needed to stop their four-game skid.
"You need your special teams to be good, and I thought tonight we were really good," Johnson said.
Video: CGY@TBL: Killorn pots backhander off Coleman's feed
3. A QUICK RESPONSE
The Lightning had control of the game after going up 3-0, but Calgary managed to claw its way back in less than a minute.
Andrew Mangiapane was able to find space five-hole to beat Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy on a rush down the left wing to get the Flames on the board just 1:22 after Gourde's shorthanded goal. Calgary needed only 52 seconds to pull to within one, Elias Lindholm ripping a shot from the top of the right circle past Vasilevskiy to cut the Lightning lead to 3-2.
Lightning fans could be forgiven for remember two nights earlier when the Bolts blew a 2-0 lead in the third period, surrendering five goals to the Blackhawks in a 5-2 loss.
The coach was thinking it too.
The Lightning, however, didn't have much time to dwell on their misfortune. Just 53 seconds after Lindholm got the Flames to within one, Blake Coleman put a puck into an area in the slot for Alex Killorn to skate onto. Killorn made a nifty move at the net and backhanded a shot over Rittich to re-establish the Bolts' two-goal lead.
"It's tough because you're sitting there thinking it was so fresh in our minds the Chicago game," Cooper said. "…When Killer scored, that ends up being the game-winner for us. I liked the way we handled it. And then the way we played in the third, we really could have extended the lead. Their goaltender made some big saves for them."
After going up by two goals, the Lightning didn't really give the Flames anything the rest of the way until they got a late power play and scored seven seconds in to cut the Bolts' lead to 4-3 late.
Tampa Bay held firm over the final couple of minutes though to close out the hard-fought win.
"The response from the team when they get those two goals, getting a goal back right away is a big deal," said Coleman, who registered his first point with the Lightning after grabbing the primary assist on Killorn's game-winner. "Gets the momentum back on your side."