NASHVILLE — Steven Stamkos’ celebration said it all.
The Lightning captain delivered an emphatic fist pump after his rocket one-timer clanked in off the crossbar, tying the score with just over two minutes left at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday night.
This was a big-time goal by the Lightning’s biggest star, Stamkos snapping his nine-game goal drought in dramatic fashion. Tampa Bay would win it 4-3 in overtime on Yanni Gourde’s goal, capping off a potentially galvanizing come-from-behind win in one of the league’s toughest buildings.
Tampa Bay might be regaining its swag in back-to-back wins, with the four-game trip wrapping up Thursday in Philly. That’s quite a response after Tampa Bay’s three-game losing streak.
"We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,’’ Stamkos said. "Guys have stepped up. This group believes in themselves."
Stamkos said he had to step up and lead the way. And boy did he. He had to.
This was going to be a tough one for the Lightning, on the back end of a back to back against the Predators, among the best in the West. Tampa Bay had its backup goalie, Louis Domingue, in net.
And the Lightning played without two of its top defensemen, Victor Hedman still hurt and rookie Mikhail Sergachev a surprise healthy scratch.
It didn’t look good early. Tampa Bay got off to a brutal start, outshot 13-2 in the first 10 minutes. And these were some grade-A scoring chances. But Domingue delivered with another impressive performance.
"It was one of the toughest first periods I’ve been a part of," Domingue said.
Domingue kept Tampa Bay in the game until it found its footing, the score tied at 2 after the first period.
"We almost beat ourselves in the first 10 minutes," Stamkos said.
At intermission, coach Jon Cooper cancelled any scheduled player interviews with Fox Sports Sun. No doubt Cooper tried to light a fire into his team.
And it seemed to work, with the Lightning coming out strong with several scoring chances in the first few minutes in the second. This was a back-and-forth game, both teams boasting plenty of speed and skill.
Tampa Bay got goals from Chris Kunitz, his second in as many games, and Vladislav Namestnikov, who snapped a season-long 13-game goal drought. Stamkos beautifully set up Namestnikov on that 2-on-1 goal.
But the Lightning’s penalty kill — the hero in going 6-for-6 in Monday’s 2-0 win at Chicago — couldn’t contain the Predators. Defenseman Ryan Ellis ripped a shot past Domingue in a first-period power play. Then, in the final minute of the second, a Subban blast went in, controversially if you ask the Lightning. On Subban’s shot, Domingue positioned himself just outside the crease, and Viktor Arvidsson came across and made contact just as the puck was coming in. The Lightning challenged for goaltender interference, to no avail.
"I thought it was 100% goalie interference," Cooper said. "And I guarantee on their bench they’re sitting there thinking, ‘This could go 50/50.’"
Still, the Lightning had its share of chances, too. Predators backup goalie Juuse Saros was spectacular, stoning Stamkos and Brayden Point, among others on point-blank opportunities. Then, about five minutes into the third, Kunitz had a shot at his second shorthanded goal in as many games. Kunitz, on a breakaway, beat Saros with a deke, but his shot — which went through Saros’ legs — slid just wide.
Then came Kunitz’s linemate, Stamkos. With around three minutes left, Slater Koekkoek faked a shot in the high slot before feeding Stamkos in the left circle. Stamkos’ wicked one-timer clanked in off the crossbar.
"Those are ones you don’t even feel," Stamkos said. "It’s like you hit a golf ball or a tennis shot. It just fires off the stick."
The Lightning has shown some progress in the last few games, but as Kunitz said they still have a ways to go.
Tampa Bay did, however, show some mettle hanging with the Predators.
"We got our swagger back. And it showed tonight," Domingue said.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Kunitz 7, 6:24. 2, Nashville, Ellis 3 (Josi, Sissons), 7:28 (pp). 3, Nashville, Arvidsson 14 (Aberg, Irwin), 9:11. 4, Tampa Bay, Namestnikov 16 (Kunitz, Stamkos), 10:48. Penalties—Paquette, TB, (hooking), 6:35.
Second Period—5, Nashville, Subban 11 (Johansen, Ekholm), 19:10 (pp). Penalties—Girardi, TB, (interference), 18:17.
Third Period—6, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 18 (Kunitz, Koekkoek), 17:48. Penalties—Salomaki, NSH, (high sticking), 0:25; Johnson, TB, (hooking), 5:20; Bonino, NSH, (tripping), 12:54.
Overtime—7, Tampa Bay, Gourde 16 (Namestnikov), 1:45. Penalties—None.
Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 7-12-9-3—31. Nashville 14-11-6-2—33.
Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 2; Nashville 2 of 3.
Goalies—Tampa Bay, Domingue 2-6-0 (33 shots-30 saves). Nashville, Saros 5-3-4 (31-27).
A—17,332 (17,113). T—2:37.
Referees—Dave Jackson, Chris Lee. Linesmen—Pierre Racicot, Andrew Smith.