Gourde — remember him? — scores winning goal

by Gary Shelton on February 12, 2020

in general

Gourde ended a scoring drought in overtime./CARMEN MANDATO

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

Hey, didn't you used to Yanni Gourde?

Scrappy little player. You remember him. Came up the hard way. Willing to take an elbow in the face for a chance at a goal. Turned invisible in late November.

Yeah, him.

Gourde scored his first goal in 36 games Tuesday night, nothcing the winning goal in a 2-1 overtime victory over Pittsburgh. Gourde took a nice pass from Victor Hedman and lifted the winning goal in as the Bolts ran their record to 20-2-1 over their last 23 games. Tampa Bay has won eight straight.

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For Gourde, it had been an eternity. He hadn't scored since before New Year's, since before Christmas, since before Thanksgiving. Since before his 28th birthday, even (Dec. 15).

This one, however, was worth the wait.

"It felt really good to score that goal at the end ... finally," Gourde said. "The first 20 games you think about it every single day. After that, you start focusing on other things. How to help this team win. I know I'm better than just scoring goals. I think I can be effective and relevant to this team even when I'm not scoring. Bring energy. Finish hits. I was trying to take a lot of pride in the little parts of my game."

Still, it was a long dry spell for Gourde. After he scored, as he celebrated with his teammates, it seemed he had crossed a desert. In a way, he had.

“As good as we felt, I’m pretty sure he felt much better," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "I actually didn't know the number was 35 (games without scoring) until they said it after the game. It wasn’t for a lack of effort. I truly believe you stick with it and you work. The positive thing about his game is that he’s doing so many of the right things.  It was just bound to happen. What a time.”

The Bolts had to scramble late. They had to kill off a penalty with a shade over four minutes remaining in the third period, and Pittsburgh dominated possession for the first half of the overtime period. But Gourde ended that.

“When you are putting the team first, it shouldn’t matter," Cooper said. "That’s what he’s been doing. The guys love him on the team. He works so hard. It’s hard not to root for a guy like that.  He puts the team ahead of himself, but I know in the end it’s frustrating. You get rewarded for situations like this. We’re just happy for him."

The depleted Bolts won despite missing Steven Stamkos and despite losing Anthony Cirelli and Nikita Kucherov in the second period. Mikhail Sergachev scored Tampa Bay's first goal. Cooper referred to it as a "M*A*S*H unit.

Andrei Vasilevskiy won his 30th game of the season, stopping 30 shots in the victory.

"Any coach will tell you," Cooper said. "There are important positions in sports. A quarterback in football, A goaltender in hockey. It’s a big part of the team. The way you can help is playing better team defense. I think we’ve really turned the corner. There is no perfect  defense and you need someone there to bail you out when its needed. From right before the Christmas break to now (Vasilevskiy) has been impressive to watch."

The Lightning plays next at home at Amalie Arena on Thursday night against Edmonton. The puck is scheduled to drop at 7 p.m.

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