It was late in the second period and the Lightning were in trouble. Trailing 2-1, their season was teetering on the brink. A loss would have been devastating to their playoff hopes.
After a first period in which the Lightning had taken a 1-0 lead and enjoyed an edge in overall play, the Stars grabbed control in the second. They netted two goals to go up in the game and had another goal - a shorthanded strike by Gemel Smith - overturned due to a successful offside challenge. Even though the second period shots finished just 7-6 in favor of Dallas, the Stars had the puck in the Lightning defensive zone for most of the frame. The Lightning's forecheck, which had been quite effective during the first period in forcing Dallas turnovers, was quiet. As was the Lightning's attack. The Bolts didn't record a shot on goal during one 11-minute span in the period and posted just three shots on goal in the first 17:52 of the frame.
Video: DAL@TBL: Erne beats Lehtonen with slick forehand move
But the Lightning started picking up their game in those final two minutes of the second. They spent much of that time in the Dallas end and eventually tied the game with 17 seconds left in the period. That Braydon Coburn rebound goal was one of the most important tallies of the season so far. Not only did it prevent the Lightning from entering the third period trailing, it provided a big momentum boost.
And the third period was the Lightning's strongest of the game. They dominated the opening 15 minutes of the third, controlling the puck and relentlessly forechecking the Stars. During that time, they scored three goals to break the game open. The Stars made a late push, getting a goal from Brett Ritchie just as a Dallas power play expired and applying some more pressure in the closing minutes. But Tyler Seguin had a goal overturned due to a high stick and Cody Eakin's rebound goal didn't count because Peter Budaj had lost his helmet making the initial save. The non-goals for Smith and Seguin were close calls, but they were the right ones.
The Coburn goal, due to its timing and impact, was the biggest one of the night. But the Lightning also received important tallies from Adam Erne, who had his first two-goal game in the NHL, Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat.
The Lightning victory keeps alive their hopes to catch one of the three teams ahead of them in the Atlantic: Boston, Toronto or Ottawa. They need to overtake one of them if they are going to qualify for the postseason. They'll play the Bruins and Leafs in their next two games, setting up a dramatic final week of the regular season.
Video: DAL@TBL: Erne nets second goal on spin-o-rama in 3rd
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Coburn's goal to tie the game at two.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1. Ondrej Palat - Lightning. Goal and two assists.
2. Adam Erne - Lightning. Two goals.
3. Esa Lindell - Stars. Three assists.