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WASHINGTON -- The Tampa Bay Lightning will have home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The victory assured Tampa Bay (46-27-9) of second place in the Atlantic Division, guaranteeing it will open its first-round series against the Montreal Canadiens at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"Let's not kid ourselves. We still have to go in and play," Lightning forward Steven Stamkos said. "It doesn't matter where you play, the better team is going to win the game. But it is nice to go home, sleep in your own bed, play in front of your home fans. You work so hard for 82 games, and it comes down to the last shot of the game in a shootout to attain that goal. So ever since we made the playoffs, that was it, it was to play really good hockey going into the playoffs and get home ice."
By earning their 46th victory, the Lightning matched their franchise single-season record for wins. They won 46 times during their Stanley Cup-winning season in 2003-04 and matched that total in 2010-11.
"You have to give a lot of credit to those kids in the room [to earn] 101 points. I was pretty excited," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "The guys were really fired up. I think they really wanted to get over that century mark in points. Everybody was genuinely excited for each other. That's what makes it fun. Even the guys that weren't dressed. Everybody was just fired up for what we just accomplished."
The Capitals' disappointing season came to an end; they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Washington was mathematically eliminated from postseason contention on Wednesday.
Though the loss did not ultimately matter, it was symptomatic of the Capitals' season as a whole: a tightly contested game that they could not find a way to win.
"We had a few winning streaks that were three maybe four games, not very many especially when you have a couple four-, five-game losing streaks, a [seven-game] losing streak," forward Troy Brouwer said. "You have to counterbalance those with some winning streaks as well. We were never able to kind of get into a rhythm, throw together a good run of games, collect and stockpile points at any one time. We had to battle for them in little chunks here and there. As a result, we are handing out our jerseys and going home for the summer."
Knowing what was at stake, the Lightning dictated the pace throughout the scoreless first period, regularly cutting the Capitals off at the pass on several Washington rushes up ice and quickly reversing the flow of play in their direction.
Tampa Bay finished the period with 11 of the game's first 14 shots, including an unfinished breakaway by Stamkos that Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby (32 saves) turned aside.
"We didn't know what to expect from them," Stamkos said. "They had won their four previous games. We wanted to make sure we took care of our own end. They obviously have some skilled offensive players and we wanted to stay disciplined."
The second period featured much of the same; the Lightning peppered Holtby with 12 shots, but he continued to single-handedly keep his team in the game. Meanwhile, the Capitals could not take advantage of the few opportunities that they did have. Through 40 minutes, Washington had seven shots on goal, a two-period season low.
Washington's first offensive flurry came at the start of the third period when Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman sent the puck over the glass for a delay-of-game penalty. On their first power play of the game, the Capitals finally tested Lindback, who was forced to make four saves.
"You want your goalie to make all of the saves he should," Cooper said of Lindback. "Sometimes he's got to make a save or two that he probably shouldn't. That backdoor save he made was ridiculous. That's what you need from your guy. He came up big and held us in there until we got to the shootout, and then I guess it's only fitting that he shuts the door on the three. I'm really proud of him in one sense and really happy for him in another."
Three minutes into the third period, the Capitals doubled their shot total and fired as many shots on goal as they had in the first two periods combined.
The shootout was Washington's 21st of the season, breaking the NHL single-season record previously held by the 2009-10 Phoenix Coyotes and 2011-12 Minnesota Wild.
"They're really nifty," Lindback said of the Capitals. "They have a lot of special moves, so I just tried to tell myself to be as spacious as possible, not to bite on the first one because they really take advantage of that. Fortunate enough, I stuck with it."
The Lightning now turn their attention to the Canadiens, who they defeated in three of the teams' four meetings this season. One was decided in regulation, one in overtime and two in shootouts.
"I feel like in a lot of ways they're a similar team to us," Lindback said. "They're fast, a lot of skilled guys and they move the puck really well. Obviously they have great goaltending. It's going to be for sure a good matchup and tough games. We're going to go home and get ready."
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