Playing for the third time in four days, the Tampa Bay Lightning shook off their fatigue and kept chipping away at the rested Toronto Maple Leafs.
Then, after giving up a lead in the third period, the Lightning outlasted the Maple Leafs when Vladislav Namestnikov scored 2:01 into overtime to lift Tampa Bay to a 5-4 victory Tuesday night.
Article continues below ...
"It was awesome," Namestnikov said. "We showed no quit, and that’s how good teams play. It’s encouraging."
Nikita Kucherov, Anton Stralman, Mike Blunden and Jonathan Marchessault had Tampa Bay’s goals in regulation. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 33 shots as the Lightning won their second straight and fifth in seven games (5-2-0).
"We didn’t want to use it as an excuse, but I think we had some guys that had some tired legs," captain Steven Stamkos said. "But we battled back, we let Vasy get some big saves at the end and obviously (it was) a big win for us."
Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, Morgan Rielly and Daniel Winnik scored for the Maple Leafs, who played for the first time since beating New Jersey last Tuesday.
Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier, back from a conditioning assignment with the AHL Toronto Marlies and making his first NHL start since Nov. 30, stopped 22 shots while giving up more than four goals for the fifth straight start and remaining winless on the season (0-8-2).
"Obviously I would have liked to get the `W,’" Bernier said. "I just wanted to do my job and I can’t control how many goals we score or anything like that. To me, it was just to focus on what I can do."
Bernier wasn’t tested much early as the Leafs (10-13-6) looked very much like a team that hadn’t played in a week taking advantage of an opponent in the second half of a back-to-back. Over time, the defending Eastern Conference-champion Lightning flexed their muscle, even without several players because of injury.
With Lightning star Steven Stamkos in town in the final year of his contract, there was plenty of buzz about his future, including signs from fans encouraging the nearby Markham, Ontario, native to sign with his hometown Leafs as a free agent this summer.
Stamkos didn’t register a point but set a screen on Stralman’s goal late in the second period that helped spark Tampa Bay’s comeback. His contract situation will continue to linger, but he tried to block out the noise for a night.
"It doesn’t feel that weird," Stamkos said. "I don’t think there was any difference once the puck dropped. I always like coming to see friends and family. It’s exciting that way. But to be honest, it really felt like any other game."
From the drop of the puck, the Leafs played with the energy of a team that hadn’t played in a week. Coach Mike Babcock said it felt like three months since his team’s last game, but the Leafs took a 16-4 shots advantage in the first period and controlled the play.
First-period goals by Bozak and van Riemsdyk gave the Leafs the lead, and Rielly added another in the second after an important 5-on-3 penalty kill.
While Bernier couldn’t be held responsible for Kucherov’s back-hander early on, he couldn’t stop Stralman’s shot with 35.5 seconds remaining in the second period and wasn’t at his best in the third.
As the Leafs’ defense collapsed in front of him, Bernier was beaten clean by Blunden for his first of the season. Before he got a chance to compose himself, Marchessault put the puck on net from long range and scored through traffic to give the Lightning the lead.
Winnik deflected a shot by Roman Polak past Vasilevskiy with 6:32 left in the third period to tie it back up and get the Leafs to overtime.
"Any time you get four, you have more than enough to win," Babcock said. "Lots of nights we haven’t had run support. We had run support tonight, we were unable to get it done."
Bernier felt he was clipped from behind on Marchessault’s goal, and though the 27-year-old felt in control, he wasn’t as sharp as the Leafs needed him to be.
With games against the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings coming up, Babcock wasn’t yet ready to commit to giving Bernier another chance. He said he’ll watch the game tape before making a decision.
Notes:D Frankie Corrado made his Leafs debut after being claimed off waivers from Vancouver 10 weeks ago. … Garret Sparks backed up Bernier as James Reimer remains out with a groin injury. … F Yanni Gourde made his NHL debut for the Lightning.