Lightning hold off Red Wings late to win 2-1

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Eduardo A. Encina, Tampa Bay Times
·4 min read
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Christopher Gibson hadn’t seen much game action this season.

The Lightning’s third-string goaltender has spent most of it on the taxi squad. He entered Sunday’s start in Detroit having played just three games in 2021: two with AHL Syracuse and his Tampa Bay debut last month against the Red Wings.

With the Lightning taking the weekend’s back-to-back games in Detroit as an opportunity to give No. 1 Andrei Vasilevskiy time off in advance of the postseason, Sunday was Gibson’s turn to start after backup Curtis McElhinney started Saturday.

Gibson preserved a one-goal lead through a tightly contested third period and the Lightning came away with a 2-1 win.

“I’ve played against (Gibson) since my days in the minors, so I know that he’s a great goaltender and somebody that we can rely on if we needed to,” said forward Blake Coleman, who scored the Lightning’s first goal 16 seconds into the first period. “You just root for him. You want him to do well. Guys were talking in between periods like, ‘Let’s get this for “Gibby” ’ because he’s done so much for us, you just want to give something back to the guy.”

The win put the Lightning (35-14-3) in a second-place tie on points with the Panthers in the Central Division — both teams have 73, but Tampa Bay has one game in hand — with four games left to play for the Lightning in the regular season.

Gibson’s third period included a 2:08 stretch in which the Red Wings had a 5-on-3 power play with three Lightning players in the penalty box.

“Gosh, a stacked 5-on-3, I haven’t seen that since midgets,” coach Jon Cooper said. “The way that game was going and then to have ourselves put in that situation, I thought it was pretty gutty of our guys to get out of that. You need your goalie to be there for you. You need clears, you need blocked shots, and they stayed in structure and did a heck of a job.”

Gibson stopped 22 of the 23 shots he faced, including all eight in the third period, to earn his first NHL victory in more than three years. His last win came on March 20, 2018, playing for the Islanders against the Penguins.

As a member of the taxi squad, Gibson practices with the team. With Vasilevskiy, a Vezina Trophy contender, playing most of the games, and 13-year veteran McElhinney ahead of him, his one previous game for the Lightning came as an emergency replacement for McElhinney when he tweaked something the night before a game April 4 against Detroit. Gibson allowed four goals on 17 shots in a 5-1 loss.

“It’s been a challenge,” said Gibson, 28, who has 12 starts over four NHL seasons. “Every hockey player wants to play every single night, but I’m lucky enough to have a great taxi squad group here. And the guys on the team have been great with me and encouraging me every single day.

“Being able to see ‘Vasy’ and McElhinney work every single day, that’s something amazing, and I don’t take that for granted.”

Here’s how Gibson ended up facing a 5-on-3 Detroit power play in the third: After forward Tyler Johnson took an interference penalty with 7:44 left, forward Alex Killorn joined him in the box with 5:54 left for interference, and then forward Barclay Goodrow joined them on a delay of game penalty when he moved the puck with his hand on the ensuing face off.

“On that 5-on-3, (Gibson) was there for us, and so, good on him,” Cooper said. “It was good to see these other (goaltenders) play and play well (over the weekend). McElhinney, his last couple starts have been outstanding for us, and for Gibby to come in and (play well), it’s good as a team, as a staff, as a group, to know that we have these guys that can come in and step in and win hockey games for us.”

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