PITTSBURGH — The puck ended up on Yanni Gourde’s stick and for a split second, the only thing the Tampa Bay Lightning forward felt was a sense of panic.
It passed. It always does these days for the NHL’s hottest team.
Gourde collected Brayden Point’s cross-ice feed and ripped a shot to the short side over the right arm of Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray to give the Lightning a 2-1 overtime victory Tuesday night. The win was Tampa Bay’s eighth straight and 20th in its last 23 games and came at the end of a draining back-to-back that started with an emotional overtime triumph in Columbus on Monday.
Barely 24 hours later, the Lightning found a way yet again despite playing the third period and the extra session without leading scorer Nikita Kucherov, who left late in the second with a lower-body injury. Still, Tampa Bay kept right on rolling when Gourde found the back on the net 2:45 into OT for his seventh of the season and first since Nov. 23.
Gourde admitted he thought about going over Murray’s glove but sensed an opening up high. Tampa Bay’s 38th and last shot ended with the goal lamp blinking red as Gourde’s teammates poured over the boards in celebration.
"It was a huge team effort and it really felt great to score that goal at the end there, finally," Gourde said.
Mikhail Sergachev scored his ninth goal and Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 35 shots for Tampa Bay, which drew within one point of Atlantic Division leader Boston for the best record in the NHL.
"That was definitely a mash unit tonight," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "It’s a tough league to win in, especially against a team as talented as that. But that was one of the guttier ones I’ve seen."
Evgeni Malkin got his 18th goal for Pittsburgh and Murray finished with 36 saves but didn’t get his right arm high enough fast enough to get a piece of Gourde’s winner. Jason Zucker played 15:26 in his debut with Pittsburgh after being acquired in a trade with Minnesota on Monday.
The Penguins, who have been searching for a replacement for injured All-Star forward Jake Guentzel, moved aggressively to land Zucker. Pittsburgh sent forward Alex Galchenyuk, defensive prospect Calen Addison and a conditional 2020 first-round draft pick to the Wild in exchange for Zucker, a proven two-way player who can do a little bit of everything.
Pittsburgh didn’t exactly give Zucker time to get settled. In the span of a day he went from playing on the fourth line on a team with fading post-season hopes to serving on the top line with Sidney Crosby for a franchise where reaching the playoffs has been a given for well over a decade.
Zucker called his rushed move from Minneapolis to Pittsburgh "surreal" and acknowledged it was "bizarre" to pull on Penguins’ black and yellow after spending his entire career with the Wild. While his new teammates praised Zucker’s skill and speed, Zucker believes he wasn’t particularly sharp in his debut.
"I don’t think I played very well tonight," he said. "My hands were terrible. I pretty much mishandled every puck."
As steady as the Penguins have been through the first four-plus months of an injury ravaged season, they haven’t been quite as spectacular as the Lightning. Tampa Bay has been the NHL’s best team since Christmas, a stretch that included a taut victory over Pittsburgh last week and a 2-1 overtime triumph at Columbus on Monday night. The victory over the Blue Jackets offered a small — very small — level of solace after Columbus stunned Tampa Bay in the opening round of the playoffs last spring.
If the win drained the Lightning, it didn’t exactly show. They jumped on Pittsburgh early, though found themselves trailing 11:31 into the first when Malkin pounded home a rebound on the power play. No matter, Tampa Bay responded early in the second when Sergachev’s wrist shot from the point snaked through a sea of players and over Murray’s right arm. The goal 3:59 into the second ended a streak of 13 successful penalty kills for the Penguins.
It set up a tense third period that Pittsburgh seemed to control for stretches. But the play of Vasilevskiy and a lethargic power play in the final five minutes of regulation went nowhere. A couple of shots that hit the post didn’t help, and neither did a late shift change in overtime that freed up Gourde to end a 35-game goal drought.
"It’s going to be tight hockey from here on in," Crosby said. "They’re a team that’s playing well right now. Not giving up a lot. We had our opportunities. Doesn’t make it any better when you lose."
NOTES: Several members of the gold-medal 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team — including assistant coach Craig Patrick (who later served as Pittsburgh’s general manager for 17 years) and captain Mike Eruzione — held a ceremonial puck drop in advance of the 40th anniversary of the "Miracle on Ice." … Both teams went 1 for 4 on the power play.
Lightning: Welcome Edmonton on Thursday. The Oilers will be without star Connor McDavid, who is out two to three weeks with a quad injury.
Penguins: Host Montreal on Friday night. The teams have split their first two meetings this season.