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Burns: 3 Things we learned from a dramatic win in the Steel City

Bryan Burns on Gourde ending his scoring drought, prevailing even as injuries continue to pile up and the PK stepping up

by Bryan Burns @BBurnsNHL /

Midway through the second period with the game tied 1-1, Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy made one of his finest saves of the season, sliding over quickly to deny Bryan Rust's one-timer on a 2-on-1, Vasilevskiy getting just the tiniest fraction of Rust's shot with his blocker to push the puck off the crossbar and down to his skates, where he trapped it between his legs.

Rust thought he'd scored. The Pittsburgh fans behind the Lightning goal thought he'd scored.

He didn't score. The game remaining tied.

And yet, that was probably the sixth-most important thing that happened Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Tampa Bay's 2-1 overtime victory over the Penguins had a bit of everything: high-skilled plays, key injuries to major contributors, jaw-dropping saves, bone-jarring hits, gritty performances, two teams that don't like one another and a player going through the longest goal drought of his career ending his slump in the grandest of fashions.

When the book is closed on the 2019-20 regular season, the Lightning might look back at their performance February 11th in Pittsburgh as their finest of the season.

Here's why.

Video: Yanni Gourde on the OT winner at PIT

At times, Yanni Gourde had to feel like he'd never score another goal in the NHL.

The 28-year-old forward netted at least 20 goals in each of the last two seasons, but this season he'd been stuck on six since November 25, a 35-game stretch without finding the back of the net.

The goal drought certainly affected Gourde, as it would any player. There were times when he should have shot and passed, fearing another miss. There were times when he shot and was cruelly denied.

None of that matters anymore.

Not after Gourde netted maybe the most dramatic goal of the season in overtime to defeat Pittsburgh and complete a three-game regular season sweep of the Penguins.

Midway through extra time, the Lightning caught Pittsburgh in a bad shift after they themselves had been caught out on the ice for an extremely long shift moments earlier. The resulting 3-on-2 saw Victor Hedman dish into the middle of the ice for Brayden Point, who faked a shot to get Evgeni Malkin out of position while skating around him into the slot. Point spotted a wide-open Gourde off to his left, and from the lower left circle, Gourde roofed a shot over Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray to send the Lightning bench into delirium.

"Pointer and Heddy made a great play, and I got the puck," Gourde said, explaining the game-winner. "I was looking for a back door, and because I did that, I think the goalie was kind of cheating that way and opened up the short side and I just tried to shoot it there and was fortunate enough to score."

Hedman came up from behind and grabbed Gourde in a bear hug. The rest of the bench - at least those who still had energy to do so - spilled onto the ice to embrace Gourde.

"Everyone in this room, we're a family in here," Hedman said. "It's tough when you have a guy go through a stretch like that. You know how much pressure he puts on himself to score goals, but you can be a difference maker in other ways. When you go that many games without scoring a goal, it's not human if it's not in the back of your head. We're so happy for him."

Gourde said he thought about the goal drought constantly for a while. Then he stopped thinking about it, realizing there were other things he could do to help the team win. His effort and his energy never dipped, and Tuesday he was rewarded with one of the finest moments of his career.

"From (game) 10 to 20 (without scoring), you think about it every single day," Gourde said. "After that, start focusing on different things how to help this team win. I know I'm better than just scoring goals. I think I can be effective and relevant to this team even when I'm not scoring, so I was trying to take a lot of pride in every little details of my game, trying to be good on PK, be good on the forecheck, try and bring some energy, finish my hits. Those are kind of things I need to bring every single night. Even though I don't score, those are things people in this room are looking for and I was doing that. I was trying to do that. I was trying to put my best effort every single night out there for my teammates in here. It was a long stretch. It's not always easy, but I'm glad I scored that goal finally."

The rest of Bolts nation celebrates with you, Gourdo.

Video: TBL@PIT: Gourde scores game-winning goal in overtime

The lasting image from Tuesday's win in Pittsburgh was watching Gourde celebrate the game-winner with most of his teammates on the ice while Ondrej Palat sat cemented to the bench, too exhausted to move, a few feet away Mikhail Sergachev bent over at the waist completely gassed and probably dry heaving.

The Lightning simply had nothing more left in the tank at the final whistle.

The Bolts already came into Tuesday's game under difficult circumstances. They were playing the second half of a back-to-back having competed in an extremely physical overtime game a night earlier in Columbus. They were without their captain Steven Stamkos for a second-straight night. Defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Jan Rutta weren't available and won't be for a while. Guys had more ice time than usual to help make up for the injuries.

In the second period, the Lightning were dealt more blows. Anthony Cirelli blocked a shot before the midpoint of the game and didn't return. Nikita Kucherov got his leg jammed against the wall in the final minute of the second and couldn't play the remainder of the game. Suddenly, the Lightning were down to 10 forwards and were going to have to lean heavily on guys in the third period that were already playing extended minutes

The third period showed what kind of heart this Lightning team has.

The Lightning stayed composed, didn't allow the circumstances to affect their play and clawed their way to overtime to secure a point. And then in the extra session, the trio of Sergachev, Palat and Mitchell Stephens got stuck in their own end for a long, long time, so long in fact that when the Lightning finally turned the puck over and had a 2-on-1 opportunity going the other way, Sergachev was unable to stay in the play and needed a change, wiping out the odd-man rush. A few seconds later, however, the Penguins got caught in a poor change, and Gourde made all the extra effort worth it.

"That was definitely a mash unit tonight," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "This is a tough league to win in, especially against a team as talented as that. That was one of the guttier ones I've seen. They legged it out in overtime, especially you think they've got to kill a penalty off with four minutes left and then they get stuck out there, we lose a couple draws and it seemed like a six-minute shift that Stevie, Sergy and Pally were on for. They gut it out and we got rewarded in the end. That was a total team effort tonight."

Video: Jon Cooper | Postgame at PIT

The penalty kill was already missing a major part of its unit with the absence of McDonagh, who leads the Lightning and ranks seventh in the NHL for average shorthanded time on ice. Jan Rutta is another key component of the penalty kill and he wasn't playing either.

The PK was further decimated with the loss in the second period of Cirelli, who's third among NHL forwards for average shorthanded time on ice.

The penalty kill got scored on early in the game, Pittsburgh netting it's lone goal midway through the first period when the rebound from Sidney Crosby's shot in the right circle ricocheted right onto the stick of Evgeni Malkin in the left circle, an unfortunate play that the PK nor goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy could do anything about.

That goal ended a stretch of six-straight games in which the Lightning had never trailed.

A cobbled-together PK unit found redemption late in the contest however with the Lightning hanging on. With 4:37 remaining, Kevin Shattenkirk was forced to slash Dominik Simon to prevent a potential breakaway attempt. Pittsburgh had a chance to take the lead late behind a power-play unit featuring Malkin, Crosby and Kris Letang among others against a Bolts penalty kill being held together with tape.

The Penguins were never even able to get a shot off during the two-minute power play.

The Lightning penalty kill continued to do what it does best, even with key members missing. It pressured the Pens at every opportunity. It disrupted continually. It got in shooting and passing lanes and blocked shots, despite watching Cirelli felled by a blocked shot earlier.

The penalty kill saved a point for the Lightning by getting them out of a sticky situation and allowing them to get the game to overtime.

"We've been kind of lucky (with injuries) until this past week and a half, but we've got to grind through it, and I think we did that today," Hedman said. "1-1 hockey game going into the third, and I think we played a great third period. PK was huge there with four minutes left, and Vasy made some great saves. Great team effort."

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