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Burns: 3 Things from a season finale victory

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps the Bolts 4-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

The Tampa Bay Lightning closed out the 2016-17 season with a 4-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at AMALIE Arena.

Although the Lightning missed out on the postseason for the first time since 2013, the Bolts can take solace in the way they finished the season. On February 3, the Lightning were dead last in the Eastern Conference. They went 20-6-4 since - tied with Washington for the best record in the league over that stretch -- to jump back into the playoff conversation and push Toronto until the next-to-last day of the regular season.

"There was a time in early February where we were not relevant at all," Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said following the Buffalo victory. "This team found a way to make themselves relevant through game 81."

The season ended a lot sooner than hoped, but there was still plenty to be proud of. The victory over Buffalo highlighted those positives.

We'll touch on three of the biggest in 3 Things we learned from the regular season finale.

Video: Cooper on Bolts' victory in season finale

1. THANK YOU FANS
Sunday's game saw 19,092 fans turn up at AMALIE Arena for, in effect, a meaningless regular season game with both teams out of playoff contention.

The capacity crowd was the 106th-consecutive sellout at AMALIE Arena, including playoffs, dating back to the 2014-15 season. For the second-straight year, the Lightning sold out every home game.

Who said hockey would never make it in the South?

"Just to watch the crowd support at a 5 p.m. game on a Sunday afternoon on a beautiful day while The Masters is going on," Cooper said. "The place is jam packed and nobody left and everybody stayed till the very end. There's a love affair between the team and our fans. I was just proud to be standing there behind the bench."

Lightning fans packed AMALIE Arena in early January after the team lost four in a row. They came and supported the team when they were sitting at the bottom of the East standings and looking up at the rest of the conference at the beginning of February. And they stuck with the team on a mid-April Sunday when the result of the contest would have no bearing.

"You have got to commend the fans," Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn said. "All season long they were with us, and it was a great season."

Video: BUF@TBL: Point tallies his second on deflected pass2. ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Brayden Point's first season will be overshadowed by the inaugural campaigns of Toronto's Auston Matthews, Winnipeg's Patrik Laine as well as a host of others in what has turned out to be an outstanding rookie crop in the NHL.

But make no mistake, Point's impact on this Lightning team cannot be understated, and he figures to be a future superstar in the league.

In Sunday's season finale, Point netted his 17th and 18th goals of the season, the fifth-most goals all-time by a Lightning rookie behind Tyler Johnson (23), Ondrej Palat (23), Steven Stamkos (23) and Brad Richards (21).

Point's second goal with 1:24 remaining proved to be the game-winner.

"I thought it was unbelievably fitting the way the winning goal goes in because the kid that just worked the hardest got awarded with a fluky one because he deserved that," Cooper said.

Point added an assist on Victor Hedman's empty-net goal for his third point on Sunday, setting a new career high for points in a game.

His 40 points in 2016-17 rank seventh all-time among Tampa Bay rookies for a single season.

"That kid's a hockey player," Cooper said. "It's hard to define everything good that happens to players. It's happening to him because of his commitment to be better…I'm just so impressed that somebody that young and a little bit undersized can come in and - a lot of guys put the team on their back these last few months- but his growth has been phenomenal. He's just a committed kid. Not enough guys like him. I'll just tell you that."

 Video: BUF@TBL: Hedman records 300th point on Point's tip-in

3. THE NORRIS CANDIDATE
Lightning fans have known what kind of player Victor Hedman is for a few seasons.

It seems the rest of the hockey world is finally catching on.

Hedman turned in a Norris Trophy-worthy season in 2016-17, capping his career year with a goal and an assist in the season finale. Hedman set personal highs for goals (16), assists (56) and points (72), and finished the regular season ranked second among NHL defensemen for scoring behind only San Jose's Brent Burns, who tallied 76 points.

Hedman led all league players for power-play assists with 29 and finished second for power-play points with 33.

"He did a great job on the power play the second half of the year," Cooper said. "There was a lot of chemistry between Heddy and Kuch and Jo."

Hedman's 72 point season was the best ever by a Lightning defenseman.

And he's still only 26 years old.

"That's a phenomenal year, and it's going to take somebody like Brent Burns to have an out-of-body type year to beat him in points. I think he's point himself in the upper echelon class of defensemen. People look at him and say he's a veteran of the league, but if you were to line our defensemen up, he's on the younger side rather than the older side."

 

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