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Burns: 3 Things we learned from a road trip sweep

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps Tampa Bay's 6-5 shootout win over the Red Wings

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

If you're wondering who's the hottest team in the National Hockey League right now, look no further than the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Bolts rallied from three deficits Tuesday night in Detroit, including two separate two-goal deficits, to earn a thrilling 6-5 shootout victory over the Red Wings. The win was the fourth in a row for the Lightning and capped a three-game sweep of their road trip in which they played three games in four nights.

In the process, the Bolts won their 13th in a row in the regular season over Detroit, their sixth straight in Detroit and improved to 3-0-0 all-time at Little Caesars Arena.

Tampa Bay has now opened up a bit of a gap between itself at the head of the NHL standings and the rest of the contenders for top spot. The Lightning lead by three points over second place Toronto and are four points clear of third place Nashville.

The Lightning return home Thursday to start a four-game homestand, one that will thankfully see them get a bit of a break from the game on, day off, game on schedule that has played out over almost an entire month. They'll get two days between games three and four of the homestand and another two games before a Western Canada trip to close out the pre-Christmas schedule.

But that's looking well ahead into the future. Let's put a bow on a perfect road trip with Three Things we learned from multiple rallies in the Motor City.

Video: TBL@DET: Paquette nets SHG to tie game

1. NEVER COUNT OUT THE BOLTS
Three nights ago in Sunrise, the Lightning rallied from a 4-1 deficit to defeat the Florida Panthers 5-4 in overtime, serving notice to the hockey world not to count them out of any game now matter how many goals they trail by.

The Lightning one upped themselves in Detroit.

The Red Wings scored two goals in a 21-second span of the first period to open up a 2-0 lead.

The Lightning came back, Mathieu Joseph netting a pair of his own for his second career two-goal game.

The Red Wings went back in the lead less than two minutes after, Frans Nielsen scoring his second of the game.

The Lightning came back, Steven Stamkos responding 54 seconds later with his 10th goal of the season.

The Red Wings went ahead by two goals again, Nielsen finishing his hat trick and Gustav Nyquist scoring four minutes into the third for what appeared to be a backbreaking score.

The Lightning, however, came back yet again.

"The guys stuck with it," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said.

J.T. Miller scored a critical goal with just over 10 minutes remaining, lasering a shot top shelf far post from beyond the right dot to end his 12-game goal drought and get the Bolts within a goal.

"Huge goal by Millsy," Joseph said. "I think everyone never gave up. We've come back in some games lately. We're never going to give up until it's the end of the game. I think by shooting the puck a lot more in the second and the third and going to the net, driving and executing a little better, you get chances and we have confidence in our group by the talent in the room to score some goals. Everyone can chip in."

With the Lightning killing a penalty whistled on Ryan Callahan with six minutes to go, Mathieu Joseph outraced a Detroit player to a loose puck in the Red Wings zone and spun around to find Cedric Paquette streaking toward goal to score his third goal in the last four games, all three either a game-tying or game-winning goal in the third period.

"Coop said on the bench if we can try to get one there, we have to try," Joseph said. "I kind of saw the guy was on the ice for a little bit, so I kind of tried to get first and great follow up by Ceddy. He's hot lately. He's been scoring some huge goals in the third period and he gets rewarded by his hard work tonight for sure."

Video: Cooper on the shootout win over the Red Wings

2. CRITICAL KILLS
After a rough November for the Lightning penalty kill, a month in which it had just a 70.2 percent success rate, ranking 29th in the league, the special teams unit has begun December much like it started the season.

The Lightning have given up just one power-play goal over their last four games. The penalty kill went just 2-for-2 in Detroit, but both kills came at absolutely crucial moments in the game.

Tampa Bay was still trailing by a goal when Detroit earned its first power play with six minutes to go in the game. The Red Wings could have likely put away the Lightning for good by connecting on the power play. Instead, the Lightning turned it into their own advantage, utilizing Joseph's blazing speed and Paquette's hot hand to score shorthanded, the third shorty of the season for the Lightning and the first since the fourth game of the season.

"His speed was a big equalizer for us," Cooper said of Joseph. "You're going shorthanded there with under six to go, it was talked about on the bench, if you can, we've got to go, and that's why he was out there and obviously a big reason we scored that goal. Again, you're getting it from different players all the time. And that's a sign good things are probably happening for you."

With the score tied 5-5, Detroit was awarded another advantageous power play, this one coming with 1:10 to go on a trip by Tyler Johnson. The Lightning weathered Detroit's push over the final minute of regulation, goalie Eddie Pasquale making a save on Nyquist's shot with four seconds left, then held on during the 50 seconds of the Red Wings' 4-on-3 advantage in overtime without giving up a shot, Dan Girardi and Ryan Callahan each blocking shots to keep the puck from ever reaching Pasquale.

"The guys are finding a way," Cooper said. "It's not the ideal recipe, but the ideal recipe is to win and that's what they did."

Much like the goaltending situation with Andrei Vasilevskiy sidelined, the Lightning haven't been getting perfect play from their penalty kill (or perfect goaltending), but the PK has come up big in critical moments, two none more critical than the situations faced in Tuesday's win in Detroit.

Video: Edward Pasquale on his NHL Debut

3. PASQUALE READY FOR LONG-AWAITED NHL DEBUT
Eddie Pasquale, Tampa Bay's starting goaltender Tuesday, waited 10 years or so to make his NHL debut.

The 28 year old certainly got the full experience in Detroit, making 19-of-24 saves through 65 minutes and then another two crucial stops in a shootout to pick up the victory in the 6-5 shootout win.

"It's a feeling unlike any other," Cooper said. "I remember, and it's completely different, vividly the first game in the NHL I coached. We went around the room a little bit today and guys were talking about their first games. This is one you'll never forget. Being around a little bit, you just know how hard it is for these guys to get here. Some of these guys step in to the league at 18 years old. It took him 10 more years to get in here and get that shot. I know he had a bunch of friends and family in the stands, do it right by home, couldn't be happier for him."

Pasquale nearly hung up his skates for good after missing an entire season in 2014-15 following hip surgery. He bounced around the ECHL and AHL during his 11 year career, from one organization to another. He was a part of Detroit's farm system in 2017 when the Grand Rapids Griffins defeated the Syracuse Crunch in the Calder Cup Final. When the Lightning acquired him midway through last season for future considerations, he was playing for Bakersfield in Edmonton's organization.

Pasquale combined with rookie Connor Ingram in Syracuse last year to form a formidable goaltending tandem, Pasquale going 10-1-3 in 15 starts and winning two of his three playoff appearances.

He continued to play at a high level splitting time again with Ingram for Syracuse this season and earned the call up to the NHL when Vasilevskiy went down with a left foot fracture.

After Louis Domingue made 11-consecutive starts, he needed a break. Pasquale provided it on the second half of a back-to-back in Detroit, keeping the Bolts within striking distance throughout until they could rally.

"I didn't expect to give up five goals and get a win, but at the end of the day, this team has so much scoring power that you've just got to fight through," Pasquale said. "It was one of those games a couple nice goals, a couple crappy ones, but I held in there and we got a win."

In the shootout, Pasquale denied Nielsen and Thomas Vanek, Detroit's first two shooters, and earned his first career win in his debut when Nikita Kucherov was true with his Third Round attempt.

Pasquale, a Toronto native, said he had seven family members in the stands: parents, brother, sister, fiancé, a cousin, maybe an uncle. They were able to witness firsthand arguably the most significant moment in Pasquale's hockey career.

"It's an emotional day," he said. "I'm glad my family was here to come and watch. It was close enough to home that they could come. It was one of those games where I waited nine years. I didn't expect to give up five in my first one. I kind of wanted a bit better performance, but it's the NHL. That's what happens."

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