The Lightning capped an entertaining, hugely-successful regular season by beating their nemesis from Beantown, goaltender Ben Bishop blocking all three Boston shootout attempts to lead the Bolts to a 3-2 shootout victory over the Bruins.
Tampa Bay came up short in its quest for a third-ever division title when Montreal earned points in Toronto. The Lightning finish two points behind the Canadiens for the top spot in the Atlantic and five behind the Presidents’ Trophy-winning New York Rangers for most in the NHL.
The Lightning are the three seed in the East for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now the real fun begins.
The Lightning open the Playoffs at Amalie Arena on Thursday. Before switching into playoff mode, though, let’s breakdown the regular season finale.
1. THESE BOLTS MADE HISTORY
It seemed every other game over the final month of the season, the Lightning were reaching a level never before achieved by a Bolts team.
On March 7 against the Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay set a new mark for home victories by winning their 26th game at Amalie Arena. The Bolts finished with 32 home wins.
On March 30 in Montreal, the Lightning won their 47th game overall, setting a new franchise record for total victories. The Bolts pushed that number to 50 with the win over Boston.
The previous franchise record for goals scored in a season was 246, achieved during 2005-06. The Lightning surpassed that total in the same Montreal game and finished with 259, the most in the NHL (Dallas was second with 257).
Ben Bishop established a new high-water mark for wins by a goalie in a shutout victory over the Florida Panthers on April 4 with win No. 38. Bishop reached the 40-win total for the first time in his career with a 36-save performance to beat Boston.
By picking up two points in Saturday night’s win over the Bruins, the Lightning recorded a new team high for points in a season with 108. The old mark of 106 came during the 2003-04 Stanley Cup season.
“This has been the most successful season in the franchise,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said, referring to the team’s regular season success. “I think that’s something to be proud of.”
Make no mistake, the 2014-15 Lightning set a standard by which all future teams will aspire.
2. BEAUTY IN NUMBERS
A couple days before the start of the regular season, the Lightning re-assigned Jonathan Marchessault, Cedric Paquette and Luke Witkowski to AHL Syracuse, the move being the final cuts of training camp to get the roster down to the required number.
By the end of the season, whether through good play or necessity, all three were back in Tampa playing for the Lightning and making big contributions.
Paquette became a mainstay in the Lightning lineup, his grit, toughness and skill a welcome addition to the team. Witkowski came up for an extended stay after injuries decimated the Lightning defense and brought a blue-collar mentality that helped the Bolts maintain their consistent play in the face of adversity.
Marchessault skated in just his fourth NHL game against Boston on Saturday after rookie forward Jonathan Drouin became ill. Marchessault, who had four points a night earlier for Syracuse, scored his first career NHL goal and added an assist to lift the Bolts to a win.
“It’s good to see that. He’s a really good kid,” Lightning center Brian Boyle said. “He’s worked hard. He had a hell of a night last night in the American League. It was a long day to travel and get down here and play a team that was on the brink, giving it their all. He was huge for us.”
Whenever adversity struck, the Lightning were able to reach down into their deep reservoir of talent in Syracuse to keep things running smoothly in Tampa.
At various times over the course of the season, Mike Blunden, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Nikita Nesterov, Mike Angelidis and Slater Koekkoek all were recalled and played a part in the Bolts’ historic season.
“That’s been the story of our team all year is having guys step up,” Stamkos said. “That depth is so key in the league now, and we’ve done a great job of obviously accumulating that depth with our management and ownership wanting to win. It’s paid off for us this year, and hopefully it keeps paying off.”
3. DETROIT IT IS
Up until Saturday night, Tampa Bay’s First Round opponent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs was still unknown. But with Detroit blanking Carolina and Montreal winning the Atlantic Division following a shootout win in Toronto, the Red Wings drew the assignment of squaring off against the Lightning starting Thursday with Game 1 at Amalie Arena.
The Bolts certainly have plenty of familiarity with Detroit. The teams played four times during the regular season, the Lightning winning three. The lone loss, however, came in the last meeting when Detroit physically outmatched the Bolts and shut them out 4-0 at Joe Louis Arena (March 28). That game remains the only time this season the Lightning have failed to score a goal.
“The last time we played them, they owned us,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We had a little success with them early on but primarily the games have been tight…They’ve made the playoffs 24-straight years. They’ve got young guys. They’ve got veterans. They’ve got guys that have won Cups. This will be a battle.”
The two teams have played nine times in the last two seasons, Tampa Bay going 7-2-0. The Bolts and Wings have never met in the playoffs.
“I think you know what to expect,” Stamkos said. “You’re familiar with their players and what certain guys are capable of doing, so we’re going to dissect their game even more these next couple days, which I’m sure they’re going to do the same. I don’t think there’s going to be any surprises, and I think the team that’s more prepared to sacrifice is going to win the series.”