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Vlad Namestnikov earns unsung hero honors from Game 3

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

A lot of attention in Game 3 of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Second Round playoff series against the New York Islanders was given to a second-period collision between the Isles’ Thomas Hickey and the Bolts’ Jonathan Drouin – a hit that gashed Drouin’s nose and sent him to the locker room for the rest of the period -- because of the force with which Hickey slammed into Drouin and Drouin’s near-miraculous ability to recover from the hit and provide the timely, game-tying assist near the end of regulation.

But lost in the post-game talk surrounding Tampa Bay’s 5-4 overtime win at the Barclays Center was the impact Vladislav Namestnikov had in Drouin’s absence.

Drouin was back on the Lightning bench to start the third period, but Namestnikov took his spot on his line with Alex Killorn and Valtteri Filppula as Lightning head coach Jon Cooper wanted to ease Drouin back into the game.

Following New York’s power-play goal that gave the Islanders a 3-2 lead early in the third, Namestnikov responded almost immediately for the Lightning, receiving Filppula’s behind-the-net pass in the slot and one-timing a shot past Isles goalie Thomas Greiss , tying the game 58 seconds after the Isles nudged in front.

“(Killorn) battled and got the puck to (Filppula), and (Filppula) made a nice pass to me,” Namestnikov said. “Whoever would have stepped into that role would have stepped up. I just try to bring an energy to that line, and luckily I scored.”

The goal was Namestnikov’s first of the playoffs in 20 career postseason games.

“If you’re going to sit here and say the players that actually had not a lot of ice time but had a big impact on the game, Namestnikov,” Cooper said. “That was a big-time goal he scored. As we talk about our team’s response, scores 58 seconds after we gave them the lead, and then when (Drouin) went down, somebody had to pick up that ice and have that impact and Vladdy did. Is he getting to play 20 minutes a night? No, but the 10, 12 he does get, they’ve been really effective for us, and when we’ve needed him to step up he has.”

Namestnikov averages just 10:08 TOI during the 2016 playoffs, but he’s been a jack-of-all trades player who’s filled a number of roles for the Lightning. He’s earned time on the power play at various points. He’s a tougher-than-expected player given his 5-foot-11, 180-pound frame and boyish, baby-face look (more on that later) and is not afraid to deliver a big hit or drop the gloves. He’s played on the Lightning’s defensive shut-down line when asked, and he’s toiled at times on the fourth line logging less minutes but adding an offensive spark to an otherwise scoring-deficient line.

“I think he’s really come into his own this season,” Killorn said. “Throughout the year with injuries and what not, he’s been put in a lot of situations where he’s gotten big minutes, so it’s not like he’s not ready for those minutes…Throughout the year, he’s gaining confidence, and I think it’s helped him out in the playoffs.”

Namestnikov scored a career high 14 goals for the Lightning during the regular season, ranking tied for fourth on the team. He ranked seventh on the Bolts for scoring with 35 points.

His first postseason goal out of the way, Namestnikov said the moment was “huge” for his confidence, and he feels more and more comfortable each time he steps onto the ice in these playoffs.

“Whenever you contribute, you build on that,” he said. “I just take what’s given to me and make the most out of it.”

A day after his scoring the only goal so far of his playoff career, Namestnikov experienced another first: a live concert.

Not just any concert, either, but a Justin Bieber show at the Barclays Center (Bierber’s Wednesday and Thursday shows in Brooklyn the reason there are two days between Games 3 and 4 in the Bolts-Isles series).

“I actually didn’t know he was here,” Namestnikov said. “It was kind of a last-minute thing. A bunch of guys decided to go. It was fun.”

Who beliebes? The #Bolts beliebe.

A photo posted by Tampa Bay Lightning (@tblightning) on

Throughout his career, Namestnikov has shared a bit of a connection to his favorite singer Bieber. Last season, Namestnikov wore a haircut similar to Bieber’s and was featured on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, who famously labeled Namestnikov the “Russian Bieber” during a NHL hockey superlativex piece.

Namestnikov was one of a handful of Lightning players who attended the show. He bought a Bieber shirt at the show. He wore it throughout the night.

“It was an unreal show,” Namestnikov said. “Everything was set up great, and Bieber did a good job.”

Sitting two stalls down, Erik Condra chimed in that Namestnikov not only looks like the Biebs but can sing and dance just like him too.

Is Namestnikov the rare triple-threat talent? A singer and dancer who happens to be a really good hockey player too?

“I wish,” he joked.

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