The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed set to live through another Groundhog Day moment, seeing defeat again snatched from the jaws of victory despite strong play.
But before the shadow could cast itself over another somber Tampa Bay postgame locker room, Steven Stamkos made sure it was the Tesla coils that illuminated the darkness overhead.
Stamkos scored 30 seconds into overtime for his league-leading 19th goal of the season to lift the Lightning to a 5-4 victory in front of an announced crowd of 17,241 at the St. Pete Times Forum.
The winning goal, Which Stamkos scored after setting up on the back post to knock in an Eric Brewer pass, helped overcome a disastrous third period that saw Calgary erase a two-goal deficit on goals by Rene Bourque 58 seconds into the third and a power play marker by Olli Jokinen to tie the score with 3:12 left.
The victory was just the second in the past nine games for the Lightning, but also the second in the last four.
"We've been battling for points, and we feel that we have been playing better, but that doesn't always show up on the scoresheet and it can be tough to show that,'' Brewer said. "But tonight we found a way to win even though it was a goofy game at times.''
The Lightning scored three consecutive goals – by Tom Pyatt, Ryan Malone and Nate Thompson – in the second period to overcome a 2-1 deficit early in the second and build a 4-2 lead following a dominant middle frame in which Tampa Bay fired a season-high 18 shots on goal.
"When you are struggling to get wins, you take them any way you can get them,'' said Stamkos, whose two points moved him into a tie for third place in league scoring, four points behind Claude Giroux. "I thought we played a really solid first two periods, but obviously in the third we know what we have to address. Maybe not being in that position lately is a little bit of a back-pocket excuse, but for us we know that in order to win we can't be blowing two-goal leads like that in the third.''
The trend in recent games for the Lightning has been to play a relatively strong game, but fail to score goals. And when they have failed to score, it's turnovers that have been the thread that unravels the effort.
That nearly happened again when Bourque scored in the opening minute of the third after Calgary defenseman Derek Smith flipped a puck to center ice that sat in no-man's land between Malone and teammate Brett Clark, where neither chased it. Bourque swooped in to collect the puck and raced in on a breakaway. Though Bourque flubbed his shot attempt, goaltender Mathieu Garon inadvertently knocked the puck into his own net with his skate.
For a fragile team, moments like those have proven costly. And though Calgary did go on to tie the game and force overtime, Tampa Bay found a way to pick up the victory early in the extra session. Pavel Kubina started from behind his own net to spring Stamkos up the middle. After some crisp passing from Stamkos to Downie to Brewer and back to Stamkos in the crease, the Lightning overcame the latest letdown.
"It's huge, we played two terrific periods – just like the previous game – we've been playing great and have a chance to win in the third and something always happens,'' Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "We give it up right away in third, and it's a weird one, and everything looked like Groundhog Day again, and that's difficult for a team that is lacking confidence in those moments. And you only get confidence by doing, by actually getting the result.
"So what we saw in the third is just a lack of confidence that stems from the previous games slipping away. After they tie it with three minutes left, I told them, let's get the point (for the tie), let's get something positive and then go win it in overtime. So we gave ourselves some positives today.''