For the first half of Saturday night's game at AMALIE Arena, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the San Jose Sharks were locked in a tight, one-goal game, the result still very much in question, particularly with the Bolts' propensity of late to find ways to lose games as Ryan McDonagh said following the Minnesota defeat.
Over the last 30 minutes, however, the Lightning took control.
And then they took off.
Tampa Bay scored four goals in the third period, tied for the most it's put up in a period this season, on its way to netting seven total in a 7-1 rout of the Sharks. The Lightning connected twice on the power play, Steven Stamkos scoring both, Tyler Johnson added a pair in 5-on-5 play and Carter Verhaeghe scored his first career NHL goal with :25 seconds remaining, part of a three-point night for the Bolts rookie.
A Marc-Edouard Vlasic goal with 5:16 to go was the only blemish on an otherwise perfect night for Tampa Bay, the Sharks' lone goal preventing Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy from recording his first shutout of the season.
The Bolts responded well after aspects of their game two nights earlier were deemed "unacceptable" by their head coach.
Here's how they were able to get back in the win column.
Video: Cooper on Bolts seven goal night
1. PK SETS THE TONE
For a Lightning team looking to get off to a positive start after allowing three goals in the first period in each of its last two home games, taking a tripping penalty :15 seconds into the game wasn't ideal.
Fortunately, the penalty kill was up to the challenge.
The Lightning PK outshot the Sharks 2-0 on that early kill and used the momentum gained to net the game's opening goal when Carter Verhaeghe slipped a pass from the wall into the slot for Tyler Johnson, who beat Sharks goaltender Martin Jones to the far post to put the Bolts in front 1-0 at 3:10.
A couple minutes later, the penalty kill was called upon again, this time for four minutes as Mathieu Joseph was hit with the double minor for high-sticking.
Again, the penalty kill didn't flinch.
The forwards on the PK did a good job breaking up zone entries and not letting the Sharks get set up on the power play until time had been wasted. Once in the zone, the PK moved as a unit, clogging up shooting lanes and keeping the front of the net clear. San Jose never really threatened to score on the extended power play. The Lightning didn't give up a Grade-A scoring chance and were able to get through all four minutes unscathed.
"You never want to put yourself in those positions, but it starts with Vasy making some big saves and the PK doing a great job," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "I think we built some momentum. You could tell the crowd appreciated the effort on the kill and the sacrifice the guys had, and we just went from there. We knew we were going to have a bounce-back effort. It's been a tough couple of days reflecting on that (Minnesota) performance, so we responded well."
The Lightning were on the penalty kill for six of the game's first nine minutes. To exit that stretch without allowing a goal while still holding a 1-0 lead was demoralizing for the Sharks.
"I think that was a huge momentum boost for us," said Lightning forward Alex Killorn, who finished with four points (goal, 3 assists) on the night. "That's the tricky thing with a four-minute penalty, a lot of ways it can gain momentum for the PK or it can gain momentum for the other team. Luckily, we killed that off early, and it seemed like we played really well after that."
Video: Vasilevskiy on 7-1 victory over SJS
2. DEFENSE DOES A 180
After a 5-4 loss to Minnesota Thursday, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper wasn't shy about his thoughts on the Bolts defensive effort, saying the pride his team took in its own zone against the Wild was "unacceptable."
The Lightning responded to their coach's criticism with maybe their best defensive effort of the season. The Bolts were one innocuous shot late in the third period with the outcome already established from recording their first shutout of the season.
Tampa Bay's biggest adjustment from the Minnesota game to San Jose was their commitment to clogging up the middle of the ice and keeping the Sharks to the perimeter. They stuck to their assignments in the defensive zone, they got pucks out of the zone efficiently and when San Jose appeared to be on the verge of a good scoring chance, the Bolts did enough to disrupt the opportunity.
"You're going to make mistakes throughout a game," Killorn said. "As long as you kind of clog up the middle of the defensive zone and you know if you make a mistake, there's going to be players there to back you up out there, it helps out a ton."
Vasilevskiy had to make a handful of above average stops to keep the Sharks off the board through the first 54 minutes of the game. The Sharks registered 38 shots on net, same as the Lightning, but few were from high-danger areas and Vasilevskiy was able to see nearly everything that came his way in one of his best performances of the season.
"It's going to read 38 shots in the end against, but he saw them all," Cooper said. "They weren't huge danger zone chances, and that's what you need to do. It was unfortunate we had to give one up there late, but it was our attention to detail in our end that was a big contributor to our win tonight."
Video: SJS@TBL: Verhaeghe beats Dell with wrist shot
3. VERHAEGHE GETS ON THE BOARD
Rookie forward Carter Verhaeghe has had plenty of opportunities this season to score his first career NHL goal but has been unable to cash in, the missed chances weighing heavily on his mind.
Verhaeghe contributed in a major way to the Lightning's blowout win. He provided the lone assist on Johnson's game-opening goal, threading a pass from the boards into the slot for Johnson to bury at the far post.
In the third period with the Lightning up 4-0 and rolling, Verhaeghe started a beautiful passing sequence between himself, Stamkos and Johnson that was capped by Johnson's wide-open look and goal.
And then in the closing seconds, having already recorded his first career multi-point game in the NHL, Verhaeghe got the cherry on top, scoring his first goal in the League with :25 seconds to go to cap off a night he'll never forget.
"I think this (was) the longest stretch of my career without scoring a goal," he said. "It's nice to get one. I've been getting chances and stuff. It's nice to see it finally paying off and one go in."
Verhaeghe was awarded the game's Third Star, and his 12:38 time on ice was the second highest of his career.
Stamkos said Verhaeghe set the tone for their line.
"He was flying out there," the captain said. "He was skating, creating turnovers, giving us chances to make plays and finally to see him get rewarded there, obviously you could see the bench's reaction. He had a lot of great chances tonight. Great play by (Pat Maroon) on that goal, but to just see him get rewarded for his effort, that's a huge confidence boost. Hopefully it can continue to come for him because he deserved it tonight."
Even as the longest-tenured head coach in the NHL, Cooper said he still gets a kick out of seeing a rookie score their first goal in the League.
"He got rewarded with points tonight," Cooper said. "I think he's deserved more than what he's had. He's been put in some tough situations. He had to play center early in the year. He's played up and down the lineup. Like any player, you've got to find your way. He's been battling through. He's been in and out of the lineup. Nights like this, it's going to be hard to take him out."