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Burns: 3 Things we learned from escaping New Jersey with a win

Beat writer Bryan Burns recaps Tampa Bay's wild 7-6 overtime win over New Jersey

by Bryan Burns /

The Tampa Bay Lightning won't be submitting the video from Wednesday's wild 7-6 overtime victory at the New Jersey Devils for any end-of-the season highlight videos showcasing exemplary defensive play.

Curtis McElhinney probably didn't envision giving up six goals (on 42 shots) to pick up his first win as a member of the Lightning either.

But despite their defensive shortcomings, exacerbated by the unavailability of blueliners Victor Hedman and Erik Cernak, the Bolts battled.

And they escaped the Prudential Center with a win and two points.

And, really, that's all that matters.

The Lightning trailed 4-3 entering the final period, a deficit that grew to 5-3 a little over a minute into the third. Tampa Bay rallied, scoring three-consecutive goals to take a 6-5 lead with 3:57 remaining.

But, in what would be a theme for the night, the Lightning couldn't protect the lead and close out the regulation win, Kyle Palmieri netting the third of his three goals with eight seconds remaining to force overtime.

In the extra session, the Lightning had three cracks at the net before converting the final chance, Ondrej Palat getting his shot from the high slot turned aside, Ryan McDonagh denied on the rebound and Palat firing out in front for Tyler Johnson to one-time past Cory Schneider and send the Lightning into celebration mode.

Where do we even begin to process what we witnessed in New Jersey Wednesday night?

Video: Cooper on the OT win over NJD

Tampa Bay was already severely hampered entering the New Jersey game with Victor Hedman (lower body) and Pat Maroon (upper body) ruled out because of injuries sustained a night earlier in a loss at the New York Rangers.

The Lightning faced further roster adversity when Erik Cernak couldn't go against the Devils because of a lower-body injury he picked up in the Rangers game.

To help combat the slew of injuries, the Lightning recalled Alexander Volkov, Cory Conacher and Luke Schenn from AHL Syracuse Wednesday afternoon ahead of that evening's game. Volkov would make his NHL debut against the Devils and log 12:49 time on ice. Schenn would make his Lightning debut, and Jan Rutta, already on the roster, would draw in too and make his season debut.

The revamped blue line certainly had its ups and downs against New Jersey. The Devils peppered McElhinney with 42 shots. Probably half of those came from in close. The high-quality scoring chances against were numerous, especially at moments in the third when McElhinney was under siege, Fox Sports Sun announcer Rick Peckham saying the action was reminiscent of a "shooting gallery."

The Lightning hung in, though. McElhinney did his best to get his big body in front of as many pucks as he could, and the blue line did its part to try to mitigate the damage when those scoring chances started coming fast and furious.

In a word, the Lightning battled. And that battle allowed them to find a way to pull out the victory and end a brief, two-game losing skid.

"It's good that we're battling for it and we're in fights like tonight," said Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who tallied a pair of assists for his second multi-point game of the season. "We probably don't want to be winning games like that, but we found a way to win."

Maroon, Hedman and Cernak are all day-to-day. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said after the game the team might have Cernak back for Friday's game at the New York Islanders, but it's no guarantee.

The Lightning will likely have to win more games like Wednesday's in New Jersey if two of their stalwarts on the blue line continue to miss more time.

The fact they were able to find a way in a trying situation in New Jersey is a good sign going forward.

Video: TBL@NJD: Johnson one-times the game-winner in OT

Early in the third period, the Lightning could have easily packed it in and called it a night, resigned to their fate of losing another game against a team, on paper at least, they should be able to beat.

The Bolts entered the third period trailing 4-3 despite owning leads of 2-1 and 3-2 in the second, the Devils scoring three goals in the middle frame to go in front.

Just 1:13 into the third period, Tampa Bay's task grew more difficult, Sami Vatanen maneuvering his way to goal and depositing a puck past McElhinney to extend New Jersey's advantage to 5-3.

The Lightning were on the brink of a collapse. They were exhausted from playing their second game in two nights and having to extend minutes with so many players injured. They'd played well in the opening period but watched the slumping Devils get a foothold in the game in the second and threaten to take it over early in the third. And they suddenly found themselves down two goals with a depleted roster and a handful of players in the lineup making their first start of the season.

There was no panic in the Lightning, however.

They slowly started to chip away at the lead until they were back in front.

Anthony Cirelli got the Lightning within a goal after he tipped Rutta's shot from a few strides inside the blue line just over a minute after Vatanen's goal.

Mathieu Joseph tied the game 5-5 at 7:45 of the third as his cross-ice feed to Alex Killorn deflected off a Devils skate and into the net.

And with 3:57 remaining in regulation, Ondrej Palat thought he'd rescued the Lightning fully from the brink when he wheeled around in the right circle and fired past Schneider to give the Bolts their first lead since the score was 3-2 midway through the second period.

The Lightning could have imploded again when Kyle Palmieri finished his hat trick and forced overtime with eight seconds to play when he cleaned up a rebound in front of McElhinney.

Again, the Lightning didn't fold.

In overtime, they created a handful of chances that Johnson was able to capitalize on to put an end to a back-and-forth affair and hand the Lightning a much-needed two points.

"I was really proud of the way the guys rallied and bailed us out," Cooper said. "You can hang a lot of that on McElhinney and what he did. But we have holes in our game, there's no question. We're coming on a back-to-back. We're leaking oil a little bit in the third period, there's no question, but they found a way. Good teams find a way, and it was really good for us to pull that one out."

Video: Shattenkirk on the Bolts Penalty Kill

At this point, what more can the Lightning do to address the penalty issues that have plagued the team all season?

The Lightning have re-iterated the need to cut back on penalties, the numerous infractions whistled against them each game putting a beleaguered and confidence-lacking penalty kill under tremendous pressure.

So what do they do in New Jersey?

They take a delay of game penalty :33 seconds into the game, and the Devils net the opening goal on the ensuing power play, Palmieri scoring the first of his three goals to put the Lightning in a 1-0 hole from basically the opening puck drop.

"I take a penalty there in the beginning of the game. It's the first shift," said Shattenkirk, who committed the delay of game. "That's on me and it sets the tone for the rest of the game. It's on all of us. I put my teammates in a bad position where they have to go out and kill a penalty for me early on, and you're playing catch up."

The Lightning had three penalties whistled against them in the first period and four by the 25-minute mark of the game. They were forced to kill off five power plays in total, going 4-for-5 on the kill, although one of those kills should pretty much count as a power-play goal given up as Jesper Bratt's game-tying goal in the second came right as Mathieu Joseph was being let out of the box from his boarding penalty taken two minutes earlier.

Over the last three games, the Lightning have had to kill 13 combined penalties.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay went 1-for-1 with the man-advantage against New Jersey, Alex Killorn netting a power-play marker late in the first period to give the Bolts their first lead. But the Lightning again lost the special teams war because they committed too many penalties that cost them directly in goals by Palmieri and Bratt and indirectly in the momentum they sucked from their game.

The Lightning were lucky to get away with it Wednesday in New Jersey.

But as we've seen earlier this season, they haven't been so lucky at other times giving up numerous power plays and they'll continue to be more unlucky than not if they continue to do so.

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