TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Lightning entered gut-check territory Saturday in the final game before the two-week Olympic break.
No one gutted things out more than goaltender Ben Bishop in a 4-2 victory against Detroit in front of an announced sellout crowd of 19,204 at the Forum.
Alex Killorn scored the game-winning goal with 3:11 left in the third period to snap a tie, while Ondrej Palat scored his second of the game into an empty net with 63 seconds left to seal the victory.
Tom Pyatt also had a goal and an assist on the game-winner in just his second appearance in the past eight games to help Tampa Bay improve to 4-0 this season against the Red Wings.
The Lightning (33-20-5) enter the break with just two wins in the past six games, but they hold the second spot in the NHL Atlantic Division, one point ahead of Montreal and Toronto and eight points ahead of the ninth-place team in the Eastern Conference with 24 games remaining once the season resumes.
“For everybody, I think a little bit of a cloud was lifted,'' Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said of entering the break with a victory. “When you drop a few in a row, you start looking through the rearview mirror and the cars are speeding on you pretty quick. So now it's a little bit of a weight off your shoulders. ... And I know it was just one game, but the taste of winning lasts for two weeks, and that's a good taste to have and puts a stop to the bleeding a little bit.''
Bishop epitomizes the effort Tampa Bay on Saturday after the Vezina Trophy candidate played banged up. Three times in the past month, Bishop has left a game before it ended because of injury, including after two periods on Thursday. After Saturday's morning skate, his status was up in the air up until game time, when he decided he could give it a go before finishing with 31 saves for his 28th victory of the season. It was the 35th time this season he's allowed fewer than three goals.
“We were just seeing how it went. There was some doubt (about playing),'' Bishop said. “I felt all right.''
His effort did not go unnoticed.
“He's in a lot of pain, that kid,'' Cooper said. “But Bish has been our guy, and I didn't want any favors and didn't want him to sit here and say, 'Put me in coach and I'll play half the game for you.' I told him, if you go in there, do you think you can gut this one out, and he said he could. And I know how much pain he's been in, and tonight was an unreal, gutty effort by him.''
Detroit took a first-period lead on Daniel Alfredsson's shot from the right circle. Palat answered that with a power-play goal 1:44 into the second, but the Red Wings answered on a backhand shot by Tomas Jurco at 11:19. Then Pyatt threw a backhand pass from the right circle toward Sami Salo charging the net, and the puck took a deflection and ended up behind goalie Jimmy Howard with 2:46 left in the second to tie the game headed into third.
“We said we needed to stick with it, look for those greasy goals and get the puck to the net,'' Pyatt said of the second-intermission discussion.
That's exactly how the winning goal occurred, as Pyatt and Killorn did the hard work along the wall and in the corners behind the net. Pyatt sent a puck toward the crease, where it bounced off the skate of Teddy Purcell and ended up on Killorn's stick, and he buried the winner with 3:11 to play.
“I was pretty fortunate,'' Killorn said. “The past few games have been pretty tough. We've gone through some adversity with some injuries, but this game was huge against a division opponent that had been playing really well. This is good for our confidence.''
And it leaves a better feeling heading into the time off.
“We finish with a win, and it's something we wanted to do, and it was a big team effort,'' captain Marty St. Louis said. “I don't know many players that play 100 percent healthy ... so it's about finding ways, and Bish stood tall and found a way for us.''