Tuesday, 4 a.m.
If there was a moment he was born to, this was it.
If there was a moment that he had bounced around for, going from the Victoriaville Tigers to the Worcester Sharks to the San Francisco Bulls to the Kalamazoo Wings, it was this one.
For a lifetime — if 25 years constitutes a lifetime – Yanni Gourde has chased one puck or the other down the ice. Through all the jerseys and all the arenas and all of the shifts, he has skittered across the ice changing the minds of those who thought he was too small.
And finally, the puck was on his stick, and the game was dying, and he was in the open ice.
And the Tampa Bay Lightning live on.
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Gourde scored with 35 seconds to go in overtime Monday night, lifting the Lightning to perhaps its biggest win of the season, 5-4 over Chicago. The Lightning trailed 4-1 in this one, against a fine Blackhawks team, and somehow, they pulled it out. They pulled within one point of the final wild card berth, and within two of third place in the Atlantic Division.
It was one of those amazing moments that you get in sports, a kid who shouldn't be here standing among the best players in the game. When Gourde is 90, he'll remember this moment. It was his second NHL goal, but it was a huge one.
Of the last six games they have won, the Bolts have come from behind in five of them.
Yeah, that's resiliency. Yeah, you can tell Gourde about it.
“It’s a pretty amazing moment,” Gourde said. “I’ve worked very hard to be here. I’ve worked since a long time ago. Obviously, I was in the (ECHL) at a moment in my career. It’s very special to be here tonight and be playing along these guys. It’s a pretty amazing feeling.
“Yes, there have been low points. Maybe I've had more than most. When you're in the East Coast League, it sucks to be there. But I'm glad for the time I spent there.”
The Bolts have turned into a no-retreat, no-surrender hockey team as of late. They win in the final reel.
“It’s hard to explain,” Cooper said. “This has happened to us in past years when we really got injured. I think there’s a group of players that have come up here that have, they’re just playing not to let anybody down. They’re playing with ‘We belong here.’ They’re playing with ‘We’re a part of this organization.’ They’re playing with everything that says 'team.'
“Then you get the guys that have been here before. Your best players got to be your best players. From Kuch to Point to Palat to Drouin to Killer. I go down the list. Hedman, Stralman, all the guys. They’ve elevated their game. We have a group of guys that have come in and says ‘Hey we’re not looking to let you guys down. You guys do what you do and we won’t let you down.’ Then, ultimately, we’ve been getting goaltending. When we need the big save, we got the big save. The big save came tonight when Patrick Kane pretty much clawed his way to a breakaway and Vasy made that backdoor save. In my head I’m thinking, ‘Remember that one.’ Ultimately we needed it because the game went to overtime.”
If the Bolts sneak into the post-season, this will be the game they talk about. About how Jonathan Drouin scored twice. About how Cooper pulled Vasilevskiy, then put him back into the game. About the comeback.
“The faith we have in Vasilevskiy is unwavering,” Cooper said. “At the time of the game, for me, it was a ‘Let’s slow this game down. I know we’re down 3-1, but there’s a lot of time left. We don’t want this one to get out of hand.’ Not that we’re sitting here saying it was Vasilevskiy’s doing, but let’s get him out. Let’s take a breath. Buds came in, shut the door the rest of the way. The whole time at the end of the first period in my head I was thinking, ‘I’m going to put that kid back in.’ Some points as a coach you’re going with your gut and the feeling I have that we’re going to win this game. Vasilevskiy’s going to win this game for us. He just had to take a six minute break. He was outstanding after that.”
Of all the goals, however, who would have thought that Gourde would get the big one.
“He is the road less traveled for sure,” Cooper said. “It was not a couple years ago he was playing in the East Coast League. There’s a player that a will and a want gets you to where you want to be. He is proving that right now. He plays with energy. He just hounds pucks. He and Pointer have a lot of similarity in that regard, how they just hound pucks. I think we caught a little break there because when Gourde came on in overtime, he was fresh. You look at the skill that’s jumping over the boards on both sides of the ice , it was no wonder nobody sat down in overtime. We were fortunate in the change rotation that they were tired and we weren’t. Gourdo came off and had some legs and was able to, not only get his body there, but he had strength in his shot from not being tired. It was a big goal, obviously.”
“Anyone I would call probably already knows about the goal,” Gourde said. “I'm sure I'll get some texts that say 'nice goal.'”
Gourde is playing for the Lightning, of course, because of all the injuries the team has had. But the way he looks, he might just stick.