The Lightning knew what they had to do, and showed up with the will and the desire to do so.
Victor Hedman summed it up earlier today. "It's obviously a huge night for us, to set the tone, to play well, to put a statement out there are really play the way we can play."
The Bolts took the lead in the first period, but when the Bolts fell back and lost some of their momentum in the second period, Dwayne Roloson became a major force, with 36 saves to keep the Lightning in the lead.
"They played a smart hockey game," said Roloson, "and fortunately for us we were able to capitalize on some chances early."
It was clear afterwards that the focus wasn't on defeating Pittsburgh, but on doing what needed to happen in order to clinch the playoff spot.
The Lightning started off the game with a high dose of energy--but what could have been a loss of composure quickly turned into an edge for the Bolts, with Steve Downie's goal opener five minutes in. Simon Gagne found the puck behind the net, and brought it around to Downie at front, who caught the rebound and shot the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury for the 1-0 lead.
There were moments between where the Lightning struggled to clear the puck, when they fell back defensively, but thanks to early chances the Lightning were set up to finish the game strong.
The Bolts maintained the two-point lead through the second period, despite Pittsburgh's surging momentum, and totaled 14 shots.
The Lightning penalty kill was tested, when Downie's boarding call in the second period led to the Pittsburgh power play, the Lightning were able to keep Pittsburgh off the boards.
Steven Stamkos also finished the period in the penalty box after he was given a goaltender interference penalty for knocking over Fleury. The penalty, with James Neal's earlier hooking penalty led to a 4-on-4 start in the third, but nothing came of it.
Michael Rupp opened the scoring, flipping the puck in against Dwayne Roloson. The puck bounced around the poles but brought the score to 2-1 four minutes into the third.
Rupp followed up with penalty after tripping Malone's breakaway late in the third, which led to a huge momentum shift which rode the Lightning through to finish with the win.
As for clinching the playoffs, the team took the win with perspective. "We've got a lot to work on still," said Malone afterwards. "We recognize that."
Up Next: The Lightning (42-24-11) will travel to Minnesota to play the Wild on Saturday, April 2 at 2:00 PM. The game threads never cease, so be sure to join us while you watch!
Penguins vs Lightning coverage [SB Nation]
PensBurgh [SB Nation]