Has a team ever needed a break, Olympic or otherwise, like the Tampa Bay Lightning do?
Well, they earned one Saturday.
They beat back the Detroit Red Wings and very loud Red Wings fans at the Forum, 4-2.
Alex Killorn’s late game-winner, under four minutes left, stopped the bleeding.
The Lightning needed these points in the standings, both of them.
Detroit seemed poised to come within just three points of the Bolts in the Atlantic Division — and Montreal and Toronto were ready to move past Tampa Bay into second and third, respectively. It would be the wrong way to go into the break. There was no hiding the Bolts’ slide, four losses in five games going into Saturday.
Wasn’t it just yesterday that they were jostling with Boston atop the Atlantic?
Now they’re waiting on the next CT scans.
There’s Olympic-less Steven Stamkos’ right tibia, which isn’t quite healed. There’s Olympic-less Valtteri Filppula’s brand new non-displaced ankle fracture Thursday, which wiped out his trip to Sochi.
And there was goalie Ben Bishop, team MVP and Vezina contender, who left after the second period of Thursday’s loss to Toronto.
On to Saturday.
“We were just seeing how it went,” Bishop said.
Bishop played, and won, as he has all season, 31 saves.
Now this team gets a break it needs.
First, it needed a win.
“It was real big,” Bishop said.
We should be used to it by now with this bunch: Someone goes down, someone steps up.
It happened after Stamkos’ injury.
Saturday, there was no Stamkos or Filppula.
“We were without two big players. And there was some uncertainty in the goal before the game,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “We came out and played real well. There was a lot of effort that third period. And Alex put it away.”
On Friday, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said the Detroit game demanded his team’s undivided attention.
“We have to play like it’s either make the playoffs or bust,” Cooper said.
I’m not sure Cooper got all of that, but his players did storm the final period.
This has been an incredibly resilient team.
Yes, the cushion in the standings has been shrinking.
“You just don’t sail through seasons,” Cooper said the other day.
Saturday, the Bolts pushed back on Montreal and Toronto, which had won.
And they pushed Detroit back to seven points behind. They’re 4-0 against the Wings this season.
They came back from 1-0 and 2-1 down.
Olympian Ondrej Palat scored to tie it at 1. Tom Pyatt scored to tie it at 2.
The Lightning nearly took the lead, but Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard stopped Hedman. Bolts winger Nikita Kucherov later hit the post.
They kept pushing.
And Killorn delivered.
So what if the cushion isn’t what it was?
If you’d said before the season that this team would be 33-20-5 after 58 games, heading into the break, who wouldn’t have taken it?
If you’d said 33-20-5 on Nov. 12, the day after Stamkos went down, you’d think it was crazy.
But this slump needed to be put to rest.
Now there’s the Olympic break.
First came a break with losing.
It was real big.