Paquette’s first career hat trick jolts Lightning to rout of Red Wings

TAMPA, Fla. — Cedric Paquette raised his arms and glided past the Detroit Red Wings’ goal with glee. The young center’s first career NHL hat trick came with impressive speed, and this would be a moment to remember.

Paquette, 21, pumped his right fist with 11:03 gone in the second period before other blue jerseys raced toward him to complete the celebration, after an unassisted shorthanded score bumped the Lightning’s lead to three goals. His hat trick will, no doubt, be considered his season highlight to this point. The feisty native of Gaspe, Quebec, entered with just six goals and six assists in 39 games before Thursday, but his presence in the Lightning’s 5-1 victory over the Red Wings at Amalie Arena proved to be the jolt Tampa Bay needed to regain the Atlantic Division lead.

"When you’re young, you always dream about scoring a goal in the NHL," Paquette said, a large crowd gathered near him. "I think entering tonight, I scored two in the same game (before). I didn’t have a hat trick in my career. I’ll take that one."

The Lightning will take it, too. Frankly, the scoring burst came out of nowhere. Paquette had a 29-game goal drought before the All-Star break, but his three goals Thursday followed a first-period score in Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Of Paquette’s six goals totaled before Thursday, five were posted in a five-game stretch from Nov. 6-15.

Paquette’s surprise outburst is reflective of how deep and dangerous Tampa Bay’s scoring threat can be. The Lightning entered first in the NHL with 156 goals, and after a flat effort at Carolina to open the post-All-Star break schedule, the Lightning will benefit from the quick recovery made possible by Paquette beating Detroit goaltender Petr Mrazek with three sizzling shots.

The first came on a backhand attempt 2:03 into the first period, giving the Lightning a 1-0 lead after assists from Alex Killorn and Jason Garrison. The second was a laser from the right circle with 19:23 gone in the first period, placing Tampa Bay in front 2-1 after assists from Killorn and Jonathan Drouin. The third was a strong individual effort in which Paquette ripped the puck past Mrazek for a final time, capping a standout effort that ended the Red Wings’ six-game winning streak in decisive fashion.

Lightning vs. Red Wings

"You can tell he’s getting more accustomed to (the NHL game)," said Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, who made 27 saves. "And who knew he had a shot like that? So, hopefully, he keeps shooting."

Paquette, affectionately known as "Dump Truck" to teammates because of his gritty style of play, lived up to his reputation in the rout and showed versatility in doing so. He debuted with the Lightning April 11 of last season against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and played in six games — two in the regular season and four in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

Now more comfortable, he has impressed coaches and teammates in recent months with his grinding ways that have started to produce reward. The growth, the gains and the spoils of his effort have become clear.

"He was feeling it tonight," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "The boys were really fired up on the bench for him. He has earned it. The kid has been gaming it out forever for us, trying to find his way. Pucks haven’t been going in. They went in tonight for him. He has earned every break he got tonight."

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.