On Tuesday night, the Lightning, despite losing to the New York Rangers, still clinched a playoff berth because Boston lost in a shootout. On this night, the Lightning secured second place in the Atlantic Division and home ice in the first round of the playoffs. Again on this night, they got some help – Boston beat Detroit. But unlike on Tuesday, they didn’t need the help. The Lightning put forth a solid performance in their 4-2 win over the Devils.
The Lightning needed to play well in order to win this game. The Devils were coming off a lackluster effort in a Tuesday loss to Buffalo and, after being called out by their coach, played a spirited game against the Lightning. So the Lightning had to earn what they got.
And they did. They defended well, which allowed them to control the puck for a good portion of the game. They did endure a few breakdowns, particularly in rush coverage, but goaltender Ben Bishop provided his team with key saves on those isolated New Jersey chances. In the offensive zone, the Lightning forechecked well and enjoyed some long, sustained shifts in the New Jersey zone. One of those led to the first goal of the game. After the line of Brian Boyle, Erik Condra and Mike Blunden cycled the puck effectively in the offensive zone, Condra slid a cross-ice pass to Andrej Sustr, who had snuck in from the right point. Condra had an open net on the rebound of Sustr’s initial shot, but his attempt was blocked. He found the puck again, though, and slid it into the net.
The next two Lightning goals came off the rush. After the Devils tied the score in the second period with a point shot that deflected off the leg of Sergey Kalinen and past Bishop, the Lightning retook the lead. It came at the end of a shift in which the Devils applied pressure in the Lightning’s end. But Matt Carle finally grabbed the puck and wired a long outlet to Valtteri Filppula. The pass allowed the Lightning to counter on a three-on-two. Filppula set up Cedric Paquette, who finished his shot into the top of the net.
Against the Rangers on Tuesday, the Lightning lost a game they led after two periods. They were determined not to let that happen again. Jonathan Drouin, playing his first NHL game since December, made a steal in the neutral zone and slid a pass to Vladdy Namestnikov. Namestnikov returned the puck to Drouin, who attacked the net from the right wing. Alex Killorn drew Devils defenseman Adam Larsson towards the top of the crease, which opened up ice for Drouin. Drouin wired a shot through the pads of Keith Kinkaid, extending the Lightning lead to 3-1.
It would turn out that the Lightning needed that goal from Drouin. Kalinen slipped a shot past Bishop from the side of the net to cut the Lightning lead to 3-2 with just over 10 and a half minutes left. But the Lightning handled the closing minutes well. Bishop made the saves he needed to and the Lightning didn’t endure any lengthy shifts spent in the defensive zone. Eventually, Filppula iced the game with an empty-netter.
Obviously, the big storyline from this game was the return and play of Drouin. He had a team-high four shots, all of which were dangerous, and the eventual game-winning goal. It was a triumphant return to the Lightning. But this was also a team win. The Lightning got their first three goals from three different lines. As mentioned earlier, the Lightning defended well throughout the night. And, in a nice change to Tuesday’s script, they held onto their third period lead.
The Lightning now know they’ll be the second seed in the Atlantic Division. They still don’t know their opponent, but that question will be answered on Saturday, when the Red Wings (at the Rangers) and Bruins (home versus Ottawa) play their final regular season games. They are tied with 93 points. What happens if the teams are still tied by the end of the day on Saturday? The Red Wings currently hold the first tiebreaker (regulation/overtime wins), but only by one ROW. The Bruins hold the second tiebreaker – more points in the head-to-head regular season series. So if the Wings beat the Rangers on Saturday afternoon in regulation or overtime, they’ll be the third seed. A Detroit shootout win, however, means that Boston would get third if the Bruins defeat the Senators in regulation or overtime. Got that? If not, that’s OK. We’ll all know the Lightning’s opponent soon enough.
The Lightning also play on Saturday, concluding their regular season with a game at Montreal. Then next week, the playoffs begin. And the Lightning will begin their series with the first two games at Amalie Arena.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Paquette’s second period goal, which gave the Lightning the lead back for good.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.Jonathan Drouin – Lightning. Goal. Team-high four shots.
2.Matt Carle – Lightning. Two assists. Plus three.
3.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 20 saves.