MONTREAL — With a cloud of uncertainty surrounding Tampa Bay leading into Saturday’s matinee, the Lightning once again showed they know how to emerge from the fog.
Nate Thompson scored his second goal of the game with 23.1 seconds left in overtime to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 victory against Montreal in front of an announced sellout crowd of 21,273 at Bell Centre.
Ben Bishop stopped 28 shots, including five in overtime, to pick up his 27th victory of the season as the Lightning snapped a two-game losing streak. Victor Hedman had a pair of assists in a sixth consecutive one-goal game against Montreal, and third this season that went to overtime.
Tampa Bay moved five points ahead of Montreal in the Atlantic Division standings.
Heading into the game, the Lightning were unsure who was going to play in goal, having already lost Anders Lindback to an ankle injury after he came in relief on Bishop, who was hit on the head, during Thursday’s game in Ottawa. Cedrick Desjardins and Kristers Gudlevskis were both recalled from the minors and were in the building after arriving in Montreal around 3 a.m. Saturday morning, unsure if one or both would dress for the game.
But Bishop declared himself ready to play after taking warmups after showing no lingering effects of taking a skate boot to the back of his head, even getting into an altercation with Montreal’s Brandon Prust late in the second period. The Lightning came out with a strong, focused game despite everything that was going on around them, which included the absence of second-leading scorer Valtteri Filppula due to injury.
“We weren’t really too worried about what was going to happen with the lineup,’’ said Thompson, who had his second career two-goal game. “We were just focusing on the task at hand, focus on tonight, focus on this game and make sure that we go out and play the right way the matter who was in the net or who was in the lineup. I thought everyone played great tonight, everyone contributed, everyone did the right things and we were rewarded for it.’’
Coming off back-to-back losses in Toronto and Ottawa, the Lightning looked to get back on track early, coming out playing a physical game - staring with J-P Cote’s hit on Brendan Gallagher on the opening shift - using a strong forecheck and putting pucks on net.
“We’ve done a really good job this year of stopping the bleeding,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “So for us to lose three in a row would be rare. I think the guys knew it, they now what to do when times get tough and it was a big one for us tonight.’’
It was big to have Bishop back in net, as well, after he made several key stops in allowing fewer than three goals for the 31st time in 41 starts on the season.
“I felt good, I woke up (Saturday) feeling a lot better than (Friday),’’ Bishop said. “I felt good yesterday but I wasn’t great; today I woke up with nothing and I was ready to go.’’
Though Tampa Bay came out strong, which included Nikita Kucherov being denied on a penalty shot early in the first period, it wasn’t until the second period that the first goal was scored when Thompson threw a puck toward the net while shorthanded that deflected off the stick of Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban past Price at 5:58.
Daniel Briere would tie the game 7:25 into the third, taking a cross-ice pass from Brian Gionta and beating Bishop shortside to tie the game. Tampa Bay would then have to kill off a Montreal power play with 1:05 left that carried into overtime.
Alex Killorn would then take the puck away from Gionta from behind in the neutral zone, sent a puck wide of the net in the Montreal end, with the carom coming over to Hedman, who quickly passed to an open Thompson for the winner.
“I lifted (Gionta’s) stick and went the other way,’’ Killorn said. “On the play I just kind of tried to just throw something on the net, I kind of missed and it went wide right to Heddy’s stick and he passed to Thompson.’’