DALLAS — The story line was supposed to be how rookie forward Anthony Cirelli dazzled in his NHL debut.
Instead, the Lightning's 5-4 overtime win against the Stars on Thursday night included a very polarizing — and puzzling — topic:
Specifically, what is it?
The Lightning blew a two-goal, third-period lead as the Stars tied it with 3.8 seconds left in regulation after a clock malfunction and a controversial goaltender interference no-call. But Cory Conacher came through with the winner with 40 seconds left in overtime, the fourth straight Tampa Bay game to go beyond regulation.
"The guys have found a way all year," coach Jon Cooper said. "We're unbelievably proud of the way we rebounded."
The Lightning appeared to have this one locked up. Dallas had pulled goalie Ben Bishop for an extra attacker with two minutes to go, forcing the Lightning (43-17-4) to scramble. When the clock hit 37.9 seconds, it stopped. Captain Steven Stamkos frantically snapped his stick on the ice, trying to direct the officials' attention to the scoreboard.
The Stars kept possession, and after a scramble in front of the Lightning goal in which Louis Domingue was knocked into the net by Tyler Seguin, Mattias Janmark flipped the puck over the sprawled-out goaltender.
"(Seguin) shoved me in the net," Domigue said. "That's what happened. I don't see why I would end up with my pads in the net. It's not something I do ever."
Then came two reviews. The first was to see how much time should have come off the clock, which was corrected to 3.8 seconds left. Officials told Stamkos that the rule is when a clock malfunctions, they just correct it at the next whistle, running the lost seconds off.
"I makes absolutely no sense to me," Stamkos said. "If there's a clock malfunction, it should be blown dead immediately when they figure it out. That's Player Safety 101, at least in my opinion.
"What if play is extended an extra 10 seconds, if it should have been over three seconds before, and someone gets hurt? Then what's their explanation?"
Then came the goaltender interference review, which comes straight from the league office that late in a game.
"You look at that, and what's a better call?" Cooper said. "I thought the better call was our goalie had no chance to make the save."
Cirelli was a key reason the Lightning had a chance in this one. Cirelli, 20, found out Wednesday night he was getting called up after scoring two goals in the Crunch's OT win in Toronto. Cirelli said it was "nerve-wrecking" all day Thursday. He was in the starting lineup, taking the opening faceoff against All-Star Tyler Seguin.
"An unbelievable feeling," Cirelli said. "Just surreal."
Cirelli looked like he's been here before, scored the tying, game-swinging goal in the second period. On his first shot. Cirelli cruised in on the left side, blowing past All-Star defenseman John Klingberg, then beating Bishop short side with a snipe. Cirelli got the milestone puck.
"It was something I'll remember the rest of my life," Cirelli said.
Then Cirelli assisted on Alex Killorn's go-ahead goal later in the period.
"The guys on the bench were joking after he got the assist whether he'd get in a fight to top it off," Cooper said. "He's a phenomenal kid. Couldn't be happier for him."
The Lightning, coming off a forgettable clunker Wednesday against the Sabres, had dug itself a 2-1 hole eight minutes into the second on a second goal by Tyler Seguin.
But Cirelli's goal was the first three unanswered by the Lightning in a strong second period.
"Especially after the way we played last game, I thought we responded better in terms of playing with some more emotion, playing with some more jam," Stamkos said.
Domingue played well with 31 saves. Domingue, who got hurt in overtime but stayed in the game, has won four of his six starts with Tampa Bay. He said he's suffered from quad cramps for a while, but stayed in because he didn't want All-Star Andrei Vasilevskiy to come in cold.
"He was outstanding," Stamkos said. "He gave us a chance."
Tampa Bay 1-3-0-1—5
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Point 26 (Miller), 1:02. 2, Dallas, Seguin 33 (Radulov, Benn), 11:05 (pp).
Second Period—3, Dallas, Seguin 34 (Lindell, Klingberg), 8:13. 4, Tampa Bay, Cirelli 1 (Kunitz, Hedman), 9:20. 5, Tampa Bay, Killorn 12 (Cirelli, Paquette), 13:53. 6, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 25 (Miller), 16:08.
Third Period—7, Dallas, Ritchie 5 (Elie, Dickinson), 1:50. 8, Dallas, Janmark 17 (Faksa, Seguin), 19:56.
Overtime—9, Tampa Bay, Conacher 8, 4:19.
Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 6-13-3-3—25. Dallas 13-6-14-2—35.
Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 3; Dallas 1 of 3.
Goalies—Tampa Bay, Domingue 4-8-0 (35 shots-31 saves). Dallas, Bishop 25-17-4 (25-20).
A—17,337 (18,532). T—2:44. Referees—Ghislain Hebert, Graham Skilliter. Linesmen—Lonnie Cameron, Brian Mach.