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Lightning fought to give themselves chance

Tampa Bay still in playoff hunt with one game left in its season

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

MONTREAL -- Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman has some big plans for Saturday. Watching whether or not his season will end short of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is not part of them. 

No, Stralman is going to spend some time with his four kids, two boys and two girls aged 10, 8, 6 and 5 who he hasn't seen since the Lightning left Tampa on Monday to embark on a three-game road trip that wound up extending their postseason chances.

Stralman and the Lightning fly home Saturday morning, then the kids have some horseback-riding lessons, he might play some soccer with them after that, then maybe a board game before finishing it off with pizza and a movie.

All in all, sounds like a perfect Saturday with the family.

Stralman won't ruin it by exposing himself to the agony of watching four other teams determine the Lightning's fate. He doesn't watch much hockey on television anyway, so why start now?

"I'll probably watch a Disney movie or something with my kids," Stralman said Friday after the Lightning defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 to keep their playoff chances alive another day. "But I'll have the app close at hand so I can check in once in a while … when I feel the need for it."

Video: TBL@MTL: Kucherov nets his 40th goal of the season

That would probably be at some point around 8 p.m., just as the game between the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils is entering its final stages. Not too long after that, the game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs should be coming down to the final minutes.

The Lightning (41-30-10) have 92 points and one game remaining, at home against the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. The only way it will mean anything is if the Maple Leafs (39-26-15) lose to the Penguins, because a win would give Toronto 95 points, putting them out of reach. The Islanders (39-29-12) have 90 points with two games remaining, so they have a chance too.

Even if the Maple Leafs lose, the Lightning would need help Sunday when Toronto plays the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York plays the Ottawa Senators.

But that mattered little on Friday, because the Lightning have a chance.

"When guys went down, and obviously so many guys have been traded away, guys have come up and done a tremendous job," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "It's fun to watch and it's fun to be a part of. They're a very resilient group. We all are."

Go back to the NHL Trade Deadline on March 1, after general manager Steve Yzerman traded away center Brian Boyle, goaltender Ben Bishop and center Valtteri Filppula, and it would be nearly impossible to believe the Lightning would be in this position.

Video: TBL@MTL: Vasilevskiy stretches to make a great save

Add injuries to captain Steven Stamkos and center Tyler Johnson and the odds get a lot longer.

But the Lightning are 13-5-2 since the deadline, thanks in large part to some huge contributions from unlikely sources.

A perfect example is forward Yanni Gourde, an undrafted player who entered this season having played two NHL games. He scored two goals against the Canadiens with basically his entire family in the stands. The native of St-Narcisse, Quebec, about 100 miles north of Montreal, has scored five goals in his past seven games.

Gourde scored one goal in his first 14 NHL games. Talk about timing.

The list of Lightning players with a background like Gourde, who has played 300 games in the American Hockey League and 38 in the ECHL over the past six years, is a long one. But they have kept the Lightning in the hunt.

"You get some of these players … they come a little bit unheralded," coach Jon Cooper said. "They weren't first- or second-round picks, and then they sit in the American League and they develop. And they're brought up when they're ready. That's kind of what they've done.

"It's paying off for us and them now."

Video: TBL@MTL: Vasilevskiy uses acrobatics to deny Danault

Prior to the game Friday, Cooper said no matter what happened between now and the end of the season, the Lightning should be proud. They were last in the Eastern Conference in early February, lost those key pieces at the trade deadline, and have scratched and clawed their way into relevance at the most important time of year.

Considering everything they have gone through, it would probably make for a pretty good movie, Cooper was told after the game against the Canadiens.

"There's no doubt," he said. "But the movie's going to have to wait until Sunday night at about 8 o'clock."

It is one Stralman would gladly pencil in for his next family day.

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