Lightning end road trip with late-game heroics vs. Sharks

About two weeks ago, the Lightning were struggling out of the gate. They had just two points over their first four games, ending that string with a disappointing home-opener loss to the Flyers, blowing a one-goal lead going into the third period.

On Saturday, for the second straight game out west, the Lightning were in the same game situation. They couldn’t hold on to a one-goal lead after two periods in San Jose and went into the game’s final minutes tied at 3. And just like they did three days previously against Anaheim, the Lightning found a way to capture two points with a resilient finish.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner with 56.2 seconds remaining, the highlight of an impressive game for the first line, to give the Lightning a 4-3 victory over the Sharks at the SAP Center.

The Lightning (5-4-1) have won four of their last five games. They have a winning record for the first time this season. And they won two of three on their trip to California, netting four out of a possible six points.

“That was our goal,” coach Jon Cooper said. “Everybody wants to win every single game, but unfortunately, I haven’t seen a team go 82-0 yet. So you’ve got to give realistic goals for the guys, and you want to make the playoffs in this league.

“You go on these road trips, which being in our geographic region, we go on four- and five-gamers and three-gamers. And if you can pull out more points than games, you’ll put yourself in a really good position if you win your games at home.”

After opening the season with seven of their first nine games on the road, the Lightning settle in for a stretch of nine of their next 11 at home through Thanksgiving weekend.

“This first month was a little bit of a struggle at times, and we were on the road for a little bit,” said forward Ross Colton, whose first-period goal gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead. “Obviously, you can’t make excuses and stuff like that, but it’s never easy being on the road for that long to start a season. So for us kind of just to find our game, kind of find an identity, hopefully these two wins, we can kind of build off and go from there.”

The Lightning had three one-goal leads over San Jose ahead of the final result, starting with defenseman Victor Hedman’s goal 32 seconds into the game. They entered the third up 3-2, but defenseman Erik Karlsson’s power-play goal 4:34 into the period, his second goal of the game, put the Lightning on their heels and shifted momentum toward the Sharks.

The Lightning were outshot 12-7 in the third and had to kill off a Sharks power play in the final eight minutes to have a chance to win in the waning moments.

“It would have been easy to hang our heads there,” said Lightning forward Alex Killorn, who had a goal and an assist for his second multipoint game of the season. “I think they had a little bit of momentum after that goal, but I think we did a good job navigating that, and the big goal in the last minute was awesome.”

The Lightning’s winning goal was hockey artistry from end to end. Hedman blocked a shot in front of the Lightning net and passed to forward Brayden Point between his legs. Point used his speed to push the puck up the ice and left the Sharks’ defenders skating by him when he stopped on a dime at the top of the left circle.

Point flicked a cross-ice pass to forward Brandon Hagel as Kucherov drove to the net, and from the right dot, Hagel put a pinpoint pass onto Kucherov’s stick along the post. Kucherov tapped the puck in past outstretched San Jose goaltender James Reimer.

“Great players, I really enjoy it,” Kucherov said off playing with his linemates. “We share the puck.”

The line of Hagel, Point and Kucherov was the best on the ice all game. Chemistry has developed quickly for a trio that has been together for just eight games.

Point also led a rush into the offensive zone to create the first goal of the game, flinging the puck across the right circle to Hedman trailing near the left hashmark. In mid-motion, Hedman roofed the puck past Reimer.

Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy navigated some San Jose surges and stopped 15 of the final 16 shots he saw down the stretch to cap a 24-save day.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.

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