The Tampa Bay Lightning aren't out of it just yet.
The Lightning kept alive their slim playoff hopes following a satisfying 4-1 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an elimination game for the Bolts.
A loss would have sent the Lightning home for the playoffs, their deficit for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference too great to make up with just two games remaining in the regular season.
Friday's game against the Canadiens in Montreal now becomes another must-win contest for the Bolts.
With playoff elimination closing in, the Lightning turned in a thorough performance in Toronto in stark contrast to two nights earlier when they were blanked in Boston.
We'll examine the Bolts' 180 turnaround and break down playoff-clinching scenarios in 3 Things we learned from staying alive in Toronto.
Video: TBL@TOR: Point goes top shelf for his second goal
1. LEAF CATCHER
Ottawa defeated Boston 2-1 in a shootout on Thursday, clinching a playoff spot, the Senators 16th postseason appearance over the last 20 games.
With Boston securing its playoff bid after beating the Lightning on Tuesday, only one team remains for the Bolts to catch in the playoff chase:
The Maple Leafs could have earned just its second postseason appearance since 2004 with a win over the Lightning on Thursday, but Tampa Bay thoroughly outplayed the Leafs to make it a battle over the final two games.
The mission is simple for the Lightning: win and scoreboard watch. The Bolts must win their final two games to have a chance. Even though they trail the Leafs by three points, the Lightning still have to get all four points from Montreal Friday and Buffalo Sunday. If the Bolts were to win one game and suffer an overtime or shootout loss in the other, Toronto would own the tiebreaker, wins in regulation and overtime. Toronto has a ROW of 38 currently. The Lightning are at 36.
If the Lightning win both their games, they'll have to hope for two Toronto losses in its last two, which would give the Bolts the final wild card, provided the New York Islanders, currently tied with the Lightning for points, aren't able to keep pace. If the Lightning win two and Toronto gets one point over its last two, the teams would be tied. As long as both Lightning wins are in regulation or overtime, the teams would have identical ROW and go to a second tiebreaker: points in head-to-head matchups. The Lightning took five points from the four-game series with the Leafs. Toronto earned just four points from the Bolts, so Tampa Bay would advance in that scenario.
Toronto has its work cut out in the final two games as well. Although both are at home, the Leafs will have to beat Pittsburgh or Columbus, the second and third best teams in the Eastern Conference, respectively. Those two will be no pushovers. And who knows? The Leafs might feel the pressure a bit more at home with their fans imploring them to make the postseason. If things don't start off positive right away for the Leafs when they play Pittsburgh on Saturday, a rookie-laden team might tighten up and succumb to the moment.
It's the only hope the Lightning have currently.
Video: TBL@TOR: Kucherov carves up defense for pretty goal
2. SHINING STARS
In a win-or-be-eliminated game, the Lightning's superstars stepped to the forefront in Toronto.
Victor Hedman tallied assists on three of the Bolts' first four goals to move him past Ottawa's Erik Karlsson and into first place for assists among NHL defensemen with 55.
"He kind of drives the bus back there, and when he's on, usually our team's on," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "He has such an impact, especially someone that plays that 25, 30 minutes a night. He plays against the other teams' best lines. He's a catalyst of the offense back there. He was really good."
Nikita Kucherov ended a mini goal slump to net the game-winning score, answering Nazem Kadri's answer to Brayden Point's game-opening goal in the second period. Kucherov, now with 39 goals on the season, pulled into a tie with Boston's Brad Marchand and Toronto's Auston Matthews for second place among the league's goal leaders.
"We scored and they answered, and they had about two minutes of a good push where we were kind of holding on and then Kuch does what he does," Cooper said. "I thought that kind of popped their balloon a little bit."
Lightning rookie Brayden Point picked a fine time to record his second-ever two-goal game. Ondrej Palat, who leads the NHL for scoring since March 23, picked up two more assists in Toronto.
"That line was outstanding tonight, and they kept countering with the Kadri line and every time they pushed, our guys pushed back harder," Cooper said.
And Andrei Vasilevskiy was truthfully outplayed by his counterpart in the Toronto net Frederik Andersen, who made several spectacular saves to keep the score as close as it was. But Vasilevskiy was a wall in the Lightning goal, his 26-save performance giving him 21 wins on the season.
The Bolts need their best players to carry them over the final games of the regular season, and they did just that against Toronto.
Video: TBL@TOR: Vasilevskiy uses his body to deny Bozak
3. PENALTY KILL SHIFTS MOMENTUM
Nearly three-quarters of the way through the opening period, the Lightning were hit with back-to-back penalties to Andrej Sustr and Anton Stralman, giving Toronto four sustained power-play minutes with a brief eight second five-on-three advantage mixed in.
Not only did Toronto come up empty on the consecutive power plays, the Leafs failed to generate much of anything Vasilevskiy's way. The early extended kill for the Lightning kept the game scoreless and started to shift the pendulum a bit toward the Bolts.
Again in the second period with the game still 0-0, Braydon Coburn was sent to the box for interference, but the Lightning PK continued to vex the Leafs. Less than three minutes after Coburn exited the box, Point netted the first of his two goals on a Lightning power play to give Bolts the opening goal.
They never looked back, except for a brief blip on the Kadri goal.
"You've got to give a lot of credit, first of all, to our penalty kill because we take those back-to-back penalties there, so that's four-straight minutes to a really good power play and they really didn't give them too much," Cooper said. "I thought that was a big boost for us to kind of, it was a springboard for us for the rest of the game."
If the Lightning give up a goal on that early penalty kill, the task in Toronto just got a heck of a lot tougher.
As it was, the Bolts were able to gain the opening advantage and play with the lead for the majority of the game thanks to three outstanding penalty kills.