"It wasn't a perfect game, but who cares? It's a win," Andrei Vasilevskiy summed up the effort succinctly following the victory.
The Lightning never trailed in the contest. Twice the Golden Knights came back from a one-goal deficit, but each time the Bolts had an answer. With 9:24 remaining, Steven Stamkos got a tip on Brayden Point's shot from the high slot to send the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury and into the back of the net, giving the Lightning a 3-2 lead, this one they would be able to hold onto for the duration.
Stamkos netted his second-consecutive game-winning goal and 61st for his career, passing Vinny Lecavalier for second most in franchise history.
Tampa Bay continues to feast on Pacific Division opponents. The Lightning improved to a perfect 9-0-0 against the Pacific this season and has won 12 straight against the division going back to last season. The Bolts won for the sixth-consecutive time at AMALIE Arena and they picked up their fourth-straight win overall to move to 33-15-5 (71 pts.) on the season and keep pace with the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins.
Here's how the Lightning were able to hang on versus Vegas.
Video: VGK@TBL: Vasilevskiy stops Tuch on partial break
1. THE BIGGEST CAT OF THEM ALL
Simply put, the Lightning don't win Tuesday's game without Andrei Vasilevskiy between the pipes.
The Bolts were not very good defensively to start the game, got better as it progressed and turned in a solid effort in the third period. But, if not for Vasilevskiy's heroics early, the Lightning likely find themselves in too deep of a hole to climb out of.
"I don't think we were sharp early on," Stamkos said. "Vasy was great tonight. I thought we played a pretty good third period. We stuck with it, and Vasy gave us a chance to be in the game, found a way to win."
The odd-man rushes and untimely turnovers the Lightning had worked diligently before the bye week to eliminate returned in abundance against Vegas. Tampa Bay spent much of the first period in their own zone defending. The Lightning didn't create much offensively in the opening period because they didn't have the puck.
The Bolts were outplayed in the opening period, and yet they still entered the first intermission with a 2-1 lead.
They largely have Vasilevskiy to thank.
"We turned the puck over way too much in the first period, and that's really when we needed Vasy," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "He was big for us tonight. We kind of regrouped a little bit. I know we didn't generate a ton, but we didn't really give up a ton in the last two periods."
Tyler Johnson, who scored the Lightning's second goal with 2:03 remaining in the first period to give them the lead after 20 minutes, said Vasilevskiy is the "backbone" of the team and makes their life "easier" when he's on top of his game.
"I thought tonight we hung him out to dry a couple of times and the last couple games probably more so than what we'd want, but we have a lot of confidence when he's back there," Johnson said. "We've got to try to shore up our game a little bit and be a little better in front of him."
With the victory tonight over Vegas, Vasilevskiy extended his no regulation loss streak to 16 games, matching Nikolai Khabibulin's franchise record 16-game point run (12-0-4) during the 2002-03 season. Vasilevskiy hasn't been defeated in regulation since a 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals on December 14, going 14-0-2 since.
"I don't know (Khabibulin) to be honest. I never met him, but, yeah, it's pretty cool, especially it helps our team to be higher in the standings," Vasilevskiy said of matching Khabibulin's franchise mark. "Record, that's good, but better place in the standings, even better."
Video: Point on Bolts offensive production
2. DÉJÀ VU?
Tuesday's game had a bit of a feel of a late-season 2018-19 game for the Lightning.
Tampa Bay gave up plenty of good scoring opportunities to its opponent. Vasilevskiy bailed them out time after time. And they found a way to win when maybe both points weren't necessarily deserved.
Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said earlier this season there were times last year when the Bolts were in the midst of a 16-game point streak in December when he'd leave the rink disappointed in how the team played despite coming away with a victory.
Wonder if BriseBois felt the same way about the win over the Golden Knights?
It's a bit unfair to say the Lightning didn't deserve to win. They were opportunistic with their limited chances (they only generated 18 shots on net, tied for the second fewest this season). They recovered well defensively after breakdowns. And they got better as the game progressed, their play in the third period overshadowing the poor start.
Still, compared to how they had been playing, particularly during their 10-game win streak from late December into January, the Lightning were too leaky defensively and gave Vegas numerous opportunities to take control of the game.
"Sometimes that's hockey," Brayden Point explained. "You play some of your best games and don't get rewarded. Tonight, obviously wasn't our best, but we get the two points, we'll take it."
Video: VGK@TBL: Johnson reclaims on double redirect
3. GETTING NET-FRONT
The Lightning didn't create much offensively.
Just look at their final shot count (18) for confirmation.
Yet, the Bolts did a fantastic job getting bodies in front of Fleury and either screening the veteran goalie or getting a tip on shots from distance.
The Lightning scored their first three goals in this manner, and they needed all three.
Midway through the first period with momentum in Vegas' favor, Nikita Kucherov retrieved a blocked Erik Cernak shot and slipped a pass to a wide-open Point in the slot. With time and space and Stamkos providing a screen in front, Point wristed a shot past Fleury to provide the game's opening goal and swing momentum in the Lightning's direction.
With the game tied 1-1 and a little more than two minutes left in the opening period, Ondrej Palat threw a puck on net from the right point that deflected off of Anthony Cirelli's blade in the slot and again off the stick of Tyler Johnson on the edge of the crease to re-establish the Bolts' one-goal advantage.
"We always talk about that, try to make it tough for the opposing goalie," Johnson said. "You've got to get in front of the net. Sometimes you get lucky like mine."
And in the third period, the Lightning tacked on one more deflected goal, this time Stamkos not just providing a screen on Point's shot from the high slot but getting a tip on it as well to beat Fleury and net what would prove to be the game-winner.
"There's certain teams that you aren't going to make the tic-tac-toe play because they tighten up defensively, and this is one of those teams," Stamkos said. "We didn't have a ton of quality scoring chances, but you've got to simplify against teams like that. Against a good goalie, try to get some screens in front of him, some tips and we got those tonight."