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Burns: 3 Things we learned from a rally in Sunrise

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps Tampa Bay's come-from-behind win over the Panthers on Saturday

by Bryan Burns /

At the halfway point of Tampa Bay's road trip starter in Florida, the Lightning appeared to be in an unescapable hole.

Moments earlier, the Panthers scored 12 seconds into a 5-on-3 power play to extend their lead to 4-1. The Lightning owned the advantage on the shot counter, but every opportunity the Panthers received, it seemed, was a major scoring chance.

And they weren't missing.

The Lightning never gave up, though. They've been down before in games this season and rallied. And with their offense, three goals in 30 minutes was not unthinkable.

Mathieu Joseph scored 13 minutes into the middle frame to get a goal back for the Lightning. Nikita Kucherov netted a power-play marker at 19 minutes of the second to bring the Bolts closer.

Cedric Paquette leveled the score - a shot the Panthers' Dryden Hunt actually kicked into his own net - with 8:19 to go. And in overtime, who else but Brayden Point was there to win it for the Lightning, jamming Kucherov's cross-crease pass past James Reimer on a 4-on-3 man advantage for a 5-4 Tampa Bay victory.

With the win, the Lightning remain in first place in the NHL standings.

How were they able to pull off the comeback?

We'll take a deeper look in Three Things we learned from a rally in Sunrise.

Video: Jon Cooper on the Overtime Victory

Even though nothing seemed to be going right for the Lightning when they went down by three goals, there was never any panic on the Bolts bench.

Only belief.

That's what makes this such a dangerous Tampa Bay team. No matter how much the deficit, there's always a sense this team can get back in the contest. The offense is going to score goals. If the team keeps plugging away and sticking to their structure, eventually some of those opportunities will find their way into the back of the net.

That's what happened in Sunrise on Saturday.

"We liked the way were playing," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "It was tough to look up and see us down 4-1. We didn't really give them anything, and what we did give them, they scored. We knew we were playing well enough to come back in this game, and I felt like we deserved points out of this game and fortunately for us we got two."

Joseph's marker was a turning point in the game. It came about five minutes after Evgenii Dadonov took advantage of back-to-back penalties on the Lightning and a 5-on-3 power play. Kucherov carried the puck with speed into the offensive zone, splitting a pair of Panthers and dished over to his right for a wide-open Joseph, who one-timed a shot from his knee in the right circle past Reimer.

"We're just trying to claw our way back and Joseph gives us that bump," Cooper said.
On a late-period power play, Kucherov brought the Bolts closer, hammering his patented one-timer from the right circle top shelf over Reimer to cut the deficit to one heading into the second intermission.

"That was vintage Kuch there to put that top shelf," Cooper said. "Definitely gave us hope going into the third."

"It's a hole to climb out of for sure," Point added. "We didn't panic. We stayed the course. We kept playing our game. We worked hard, and when we got our chances, we converted on them."

 Video: TBL@FLA: Domingue comes up big in OT with vital save

Louis Domingue, making his 10th-consecutive start in net for the Lightning, will be the first to admit he wasn't as sharp in Florida as he would like to be. Heck even before the game in Florida, Domingue said he felt he'd had a couple sub-par performances in the two previous games and owed the team a good performance.

Saturday's game might not have been his best 60-minute-plus effort. But he made the key saves when he needed to that allowed the Lightning to escape Sunrise with both points.

"He's winning games for us," Cooper said. "It's what we have right now. He finds a way to win. He finds a way to makes a big save for us when we need him. You just need that in a goalie and that's what he's doing."

In the third period with the Lightning still searching for the game-tying goal, Domingue kept the deficit at one, first with a critical stop on Florida's Aleksander Barkov then another when Mike Hoffman got behind the Lightning for a breakaway.

After Paquette was able to get the game into overtime, Domingue had one more point-blank stop in him, denying Aaron Ekblad with a quick reaction left leg save.

Moments later, Point, who allowed Ekblad to get by him and was bailed out by Domingue's heroics, slammed a back door one-timer into the net for the 5-4 victory.

"I lost Ekblad there, and he gets a great scoring chance and Louis makes a big save," Point said. "You've definitely got to aware. It was nice to see us get a power play and convert on it."

Domingue has gone 7-3-0 in his 10-consecutive starts since Andrei Vasilevskiy was sidelined by a left foot fracture. He ranks tied for first in the NHL for wins since taking over on November 13.

He may be showing small signs of fatigue playing so many games consecutively.

But he's doing everything in his power to get the Lightning victories, and Tampa Bay hasn't missed a beat with Vasilevskiy out.

"Louis would be the first to tell you, you look up and the poor kid's got two goals on him on three shots in the (first) period," Cooper said. "But when the game's on the line and you need the timely save, I think it was Hoffman who had the breakaway, he stopped that. He stops a big one in overtime on Ekblad. Those are the saves you need to give your team a chance to win, and he's finding a way to give us those saves. We're getting points out of it. Good on Louis to hang in this game the way he did and pull it out for us."

Video: TBL@FLA: Kucherov hammers PPG past Reimer 

Nikita Kucherov had one of the best months in Tampa Bay Lightning history when he put up 23 points in November for a career high for points in a month and the third-highest scoring month in Lightning history behind two guys named Marty St. Louis (25 pts. in Jan. 2004) and Vincent Lecavalier (25 pts. in Nov. 2007).

Kucherov shows no signs of slowing down in December either.

The Russian right winger registered three points on Saturday, setting up Joseph's goal for an assist, netting a power-play goal late in the second to get the Lightning within a goal and delivering the critical pass to Point in overtime for the game-winner.

"Just a great pass by Kuch, through the guys legs. I just tried to stop it and make sure I put it in," Point said of his game-winner, his NHL-best 15th game-winning goal since the start of the 2017-18 season. "Reimer gets across. He actually gets a blocker on it but still found a way into the net. Just a great pass, and I just wanted to make sure on it."

Kucherov reached a trio of milestones with his performance Saturday. His second period power-play goal was the 44th career power-play goal of his career, moving him into a tie with Vinny Prospal for fifth place among the Lightning's all-time power-play goal scorers. His assist on Point's power-play overtime winner was his 127th career power-play point, giving him sole possession of fifth place among Tampa Bay's all-time power-play scorers, passing Dan Boyle.

And with three points on the night, his sixth three-point night of the season and fourth over the last nine games, Kucheov (372 career points) passed Vinny Prospal again, this time for sixth place among Tampa Bay's all-time scoring leaders.

Kucherov now ranks tied for third in the NHL for scoring, just five points back of league-leading Mikko Rantanen from Colorado. And he extended his point streak to nine games, already a season high for the Lightning and two games shy of matching his career long for a scoring streak set at the start of last season.

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