Though it didn't come easily, the Tampa Bay Lightning put the brakes on their recent losing skid and recorded a 5-4 overtime victory over the Calgary Flames on December 15, 2011.
Losers of 7 of 8 games prior to Thursday's contest, the Bolts remain at a turning point in their season. Sitting in 13th place, the team continues to be closer to the bottom of the Eastern Conference than to a once-expected playoff spot. If they are to contend, Tampa Bay needs to put together multiple wins before the deficiency grows too burdensome to overcome.
And the Lightning certainly entered the match-up against Calgary with that much-needed sense of urgency.
Teddy Purcell gave the home team an early lead, netting his 6th goal of the season on a power-play a little more than 5 minutes into the contest. The Lightning enjoyed a stellar opening frame, but typically let their guard down and allowed the Flames to land an equalizer in the final seconds of play.
Only minutes into the 2nd period, Calgary star Jarome Iginla grabbed a 2-1 edge and electrified the crowd on a pretty one-timer from the left circle that beat goalie Mathieu Garon. The tally was the 496th of the future Hall-of-Famer's impressive career.
During the team's slide, this exact form of turbulence has frequently jettisoned all chance of success and led to an apparent decrease in effort. On this night, however, Tampa Bay seemed sparked by the need to overcome the sudden deficit.
Out-shooting their opponents 18-5, the Bolts dominated the middle part of the contest. During an action-packed 9 minute stretch of the 2nd frame, joyful lightning struck the St. Pete Times Forum 3 times, as the home team seized a 4-2 lead from Calgary goalie Mikka Kiprusoff after 40 minutes of play.
Yet, this much-needed momentum did not carry into the 3rd period. With Tampa Bay content to nurse its lead, the Flames controlled play and stayed on offense for much of the frame. Consistently firing shots on net, the visitors dishearteningly tied the game with only 3 minutes remaining.
But that's when the Lightning's star power took control and surprisingly secured an overtime triumph. As the extra period began, Steven Stamkos quickly approached the net and sneaked home the game winner, following a smooth assist from Eric Brewer.
With Martin St. Louis still uncharacteristically sidelined from facial injuries, this was the precise lift that Tampa Bay needed from a team leader. The goal was the 19th of the season for Stamkos, which ties him for the NHL lead with Ottawa's Milan Michalek.
The squad should be praised for opening strongly. Furthermore, a win is a win, and fans will gladly take this one. However, Coach Guy Boucher must be concerned about the late game letdown. Unfortunately, such struggles tend to follow when goal-tending is unsettled. Though Mathieu Garon gave his team a chance, he failed to bail out his comrades when the Bolts' defense made mistakes.
Still in desperate need of accumulating points, the Lightning now hit the road for 3 games over the course of a week. The trip begins with a game in Columbus on December 17 at 7:00pm. The Blue Jackets currently possess the worst record in the league and such a game is an ideal opportunity for Tampa Bay to embark upon a winning streak.
More by Jeff Briscoe from Yahoo! Contributor Network:
Jeff Briscoe is a hockey fan from Florida, who follows the Tampa BayLightning. He also covers Tampa Bay's ECHL minor league affiliate, the Florida Everblades, for Examiner.com.