Tampa Bay Lightning overcome refs, Vegas for massive home win

A chaotic third period almost went south for Tampa, but Nick Paul's game winner ensured two points for the Lightning
Dec 21, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Nicholas Paul (20) celebrates after
Dec 21, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Nicholas Paul (20) celebrates after / Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
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One of the things holding the Tampa Bay Lightning back in 2023-24 has been the inability to string wins together. Entering Thursday night's game against the Vegas Golden Knights, Tampa was 4-7-4 following a win.

So following Tuesday's beatdown of St. Louis, the stage was set for Tampa to finally flip the script and get some much-needed momentum on the season. And despite a slow start in the first and some questionable officiating in the third, the Lightning showcased they are willing to keep grinding even in the face of adversity,

Tampa Bay Lightning: Beat the odds

If one was hoping Tampa was going to come flying out of the gate following Tuesday's win, they were left disappointed. Tampa didn't play that poorly in the first period, but as has been the case all season their defensive zone breakdown left them behind 2-0.

Jonathan Marchessault opened the scoring for Vegas after he was left wide open on the goal mouth. Brayden McNabb took a shot that was deflected by Paul Cotter. Calvin de Haan was caught high up and the puck bounced straight to Marchessault.

Likewise on the second goal, Victor Hedman and Nick Paul couldn't win a board battle and the puck came straight out to Mark Stone who found Ivan Barbashev to make it 2-0.

Given how poorly second periods have gone for Tampa all season, one would justified if their confidence of a comeback were low and we would be singing a much different tune. But there was an energy and attitude Tampa came out with in the second period that we just haven't seen enough of this season.

Alex Barre-Boulet opened the scoring for Tampa with 11 minutes to go in the second. He was left alone on the back door and Hedman found him with a shot-pass.

From there, the fireworks started to ramp up. Tanner Jeannot delivered a big hit in the offensive zone, and Vegas returned the favor on Anthony Cirelli a minute later. Brandon Hagel took expectations and fought Barbashev, but Hagel was given an extra two minutes to start the fight.

Cirelli was able to draw a tripping penalty to even it back up and when Tampa was able to go on the power play of their own they were able to make it a on 5 on 3 following a delay of game.

That's when Nikita Kucherov went to work.

Brayden Point then joined in the act and scored back to back goals to take the lead and extend it to 4-2 heading into the third period. His second goal gave him 500 career points.

Are you blind?

In a story as old as time, the Tampa Bay Lightning had the 5 on 3 power play, so naturally this means the refs had to look for ways to even up the game.

With 16 minutes to play, Kucherov was coming down the left boards when he was hooked and grabbed and spun aronud by Vegas.

No call.

30 seconds later Kucherov had a breakaway where Vegas dove and put their stick in his skates, but Kucherov was trying to finish the play and didn't go down.

No call.

Combined with an earlier missed holding of the stick, Kucherov was not a happy camper and let the refs know about it while on the bench.

"Tampa Bay, number 86 minor penalty, unsportsmanlike conduct"

Jon Cooper all the bench could be seen screaming himself "All f****** night"

Bobby "The Chief" Taylor on radio said it best.

"This is how bad this officiating is. This officiating has gotten worse, and worse, and worse over the years. They got rabbit ears. They don't call what is really a penalty. Twice (Kucherov) was hooked and the holding the stick call not called.""

As predictable as anything, Vegas scored on the power play and scored again to make it 4-4

This is where some of the grit Tampa has been missing shone through. Having blown another third period lead with everything tilting against them, it would have been easy for Tampa to turtle, just get to overtime and accept their point.

Paul had other ideas. With 1:13 left, Point fired off a shot that rebounded to Paul along the board and near the goal line. His angle wasn't great, but he fired it back in anyway.

Goal, 5-4, victory for the good guys.

Tampa needed this win. It's just one win in an 82 game season, but they needed this. As of today they are still outside the playoff picture, but they have pieced together three wins in their last four games.

Their defensive zone is still a liabilty, but compared to how we've seen night's like last night normally play out, it was huge for Tampa to flip the script for at least one night.