New York (AFP) – The Tampa Bay Lightning fought back to clinch a thrilling 4-3 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins to seize control of their Eastern Conference finals series.
The Lightning snatched a dramatic win after only 53 seconds of overtime when Tyler Johnson deflected Jason Garrison’s wrist shot from the left circle to give his team a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Nikita Kucherov played a starring role for Tampa, scoring twice as the Lightning recovered from a two-goal deficit to clinch their second win in three games in Pittsburgh.
Victory in Game Six on Tuesday in Tampa would see the Lightning advance to the Stanley Cup finals for a second straight season.
Beaten Penguins coach Mike Sullivan backed his team to bounce back in what is now a must-win game on Tuesday.
“This is the first time we’ve been in this position. I know that our guys will respond the right way,” Sullivan said.
“I told them after the game it’s disappointing, we’re all disappointed we didn’t get the result tonight, but we can’t change it. So all we’ve got to do is we’ve got to gather ourselves, we’ve got to go back at it, and try to win a game.”
Sullivan had raised eyebrows by recalling goalie Marc-Andre Fleury after a 51-day absence, replacing rookie Matt Murray.
But the selectorial gambit backfired as Fleury was outplayed by rookie Andrei Vasilevisky, who made 31 saves to Fleury’s 23.
The loss was another blemish on Fleury’s poor record in playoffs — he has now won only one of his last nine postseason starts.
The Lightning meanwhile benefited from the makeshift nature of the Penguins defense following the injury to defenseman Trevor Daley in game four that ruled him out of the series.
Olli Maatta, recalled after being benched for three games, meanwhile featured in two of the Penguins’ first three goals.
But it was a disappointing night for Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin who both failed to hit the target.
The Penguins looked to be heading for victory after leading 3-2 late in the third only for Kucherov to score his second of the game — and 11th of the playoffs — at 16:44.
Pittsburgh took the lead through Brian Dumoulin in the first period before doubling their tally through Patric Hornqvist in the second period.
Tampa, however, hit back through Alex Killorn before Kucherov leveled with his first of the night.
Chris Kunitz restored the Penguins lead but a late strike from Kucherov in the third and final period made it 3-3, sending the game to overtime and handing Johnson his moment of glory.