TAMPA — A pregame ceremony that will not soon be forgotten by those assembled at Amalie Arena on Wednesday night featured 46 of the 70 living Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. It was the largest such gathering since the 1970s.
Retired Marine Corps Corporal Hershel “Woody” Williams, 96 years young and the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient to have fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima, did the honors on the ceremonial faceoff. He dropped the puck between captains Steven Stamkos of the Lightning and the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby.
“That was pretty special,” said Stamkos. “To see all the guys and to get a chance for me, personally, to do the puck drop was pretty amazing, and to shake some of their hands.”
As for the evening’s match between two perennial Eastern Conference titans, Victor Hedman’s powerplay goal with 57 seconds remaining gave the Lightning a 3-2 win.
After Hedman’s goal, Pittsburgh pulled goalie Tristan Jarry for an extra attacker and the Lightning survived a flurry in the final seconds. They also survived a lengthy review as replay officials in Toronto took a long look at whether Kris Letang’s shot got past the goal line before Lightning goalie Andrei Vasievskiy’s glove save.
It was ruled no goal and Tampa Bay had its seventh win in the last eight games on home ice against Pittsburgh.
“They couldn’t tell with HD cameras,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “They are being thorough and I am sure they were looking at all the angles.”
The longer the review took seemed to bode well for the Lightning’s chances.
“You have to really make sure,” said Hedman. “The longer it took the more confident I got that it wasn’t in. It’s tough to go that long and all of a sudden find a goal.”
The Lightning, which trailed 2-1 after two periods and tied the score on Cedric Paquette’s goal at 7:07 of the third, had two powerplay opportunities in the game’s final few minutes. After failing to connect on the first one, Hedman’s blast found its way through traffic and past Jarry for their only extra-man goal in five opportunities.
“We have been trying to improve on our powerplay and we haven’t really had the success that we had last year, so it was a big one for us,” said Hedman, who scored his second goal of the season.
Paquette, who missed the first eight games due to an “upper body” injury, made a difference in his return with the game-tying tally. He played 12:14 and registered five hits, including a couple early.
“It is always nice to be back with the boys,” he said. “It was three weeks of not being on the ice with them, but it felt good to be back on the ice and helping the team.”
After Alex Killorn opened the scoring at 9:46 of the opening period, Pittsburgh got second-period goals from Brandon Tanev and Jake Guentzel to take a 2-1 lead into the final period.
The comeback, in which they recorded 48 shots on goal, improved the Lightning’s record to 5-3-1.
“We have a plan and we are slowly improving and executing our plan,” said Cooper. “It’s been really nice to watch what we have done. We have won three of four and have pretty much played playoff teams during this run. I like where we are at and I like the way our game is evolving, but there is still room for improvement.”
The Bolts will try to make it four out of five when they take the ice Saturday night against visiting Nashville.