The victory yields the two points the Lightning needed to overtake the Montreal Canadiens for second place in the Atlantic Division in the quest to secure home ice in their first-round playoff series next week, at least for now, but the Lightning might feel like it was more like surviving than winning. Entering the game without the services of defenseman Sami Salo and goaltender Ben Bishop, the Lightning would also find themselves without forwards Valtteri Filppula (lower body injury) and Teddy Purcell (flu) at faceoff. By the time the game ended, defenseman Victor Hedman and forward Ondrej Palat would also be unavailable. At the same time, goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis and forward Cedric Paquette, both freshly called up from the Syracuse Crunch, made their NHL debuts.
"I don't know if you can ever fully prepare for injuries. The way you prepare for this is to bring guys up like Paquette and throw him in some games. We bring guys up who we feel are going to help our team win. There's a potential that these guys could get into the playoffs and help us." - Cooper
Gudlevskis, who drew worldwide attention with his performance for Latvia versus Canada in the winter Olympics, did not disappoint in his history-making debut. He turned away 36 of the 38 shots he faced in becoming the first goaltender to ever play in the East Coast Hockey League, American Hockey League, Olympics and the National Hockey League in the same season.
"If Gudlevskis needed to play, we didn't want his first game to be a playoff game. We wanted him to feel the environment, get this out of the way, and he was up to the task. He was outstanding." - Cooper
His teammates did their best to assist, keeping Columbus from registering a shot until nearly six and a half minutes had been played, although they would go on to outshoot the Lightning 38-22.
After three shifts, Hedman left the game with what was classified as a "lower body injury". At the time, his return was deemed "questionable".
The first period ended with the teams tied at zero.
The Lightning got on the board at 3:55 of the second when Palat converted on the power play, getting an assist from Alex Killorn
Just over a minute later, the Lightning regained the lead at 14:54 with Eric Brewer's wrist shot getting past Blue Jackets netminder Curtis McElhinney. Paquette was credited with the assist, his first point in the NHL.
The score was 3-1 Lightning at the end of two periods.
That was as close as they got as the Lightning successfully fought off the late charge, including a nerve-wracking fonal 45 seconds when shots at the Blue Jackets empty net turned into icing calls.
"This was as entertaining of a hockey game as we have seen in a while. It had everything and it was very playoff-esque. We were a little bit under siege there in the third period but we didn't give up a ton of chances. And when we did, Gudlevskis was there. Ultimately, we got three and when you only give up two, it really increases your odds of winning." - Cooper
The Lightning will head out on the road for their final regular season game at Washington on Sunday. An announcement regarding the playoff schedule will not be made until that day at the earliest and the Lightning are not expected to play, either home or at Montreal, before Wednesday, the 16th,
- The Lightning finish the season series against Columbus with a 1-2-0 record. Prior to tonight's game, only Hedman and Kilorn had scored against the Blue Jackets this season.
- The Lightning are now 7-1-0 all time at home against the Blue Jackets.
- Palat's points-scored streak is now six games (4 goals, 4 assists).
- For those looking to add to their sweater collections, Gudlevskis is wearing number 37 while Paquette has number 54.
- With this win, the scenarios for locking up home ice get considerably easier. A loss in regulation by the Canadiens tomorrow clinches it for the Lightning. If they manage to salvage a point with a loss in overtime, the Lightning would just need a single point in their game on Sunday. And of course, if the Lightning beat Washington, that will certainly do the job as well.
- The Lightning honored Glen Schubert as the 41st Lightning Community Hero of the year during the first period of tonight's game. Schubert, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate the money to Instruments of Change, Ruth Eckerd Hall, and the Boys and Girls Club. Schubert realized the need to bring musical instruction to underfunded schools in the Tampa Bay Area. To fulfill this need, Schubert founded Instruments of Change. In partnership with the Boys and Girls Club, Instruments of Change helped bring piano instruction to more than 150 inner city students. In addition, the elementary band program has brought flute, clarinet, and trumpet lessons to 5th grade classes in local elementary schools. In the past five years, the program has reached over 500 local area students. Schubert has been widely recognized for his service to the community. He, his work, and those he has assisted have had articles and stories about them in the Tampa Bay Times, WFLA.com, and BayNews9.com.
- Once again, it has been an honor, thrill and privilege to serve as your eyes and ears in the press box at the Tampa Bay Times Forum this season. Raw Charge is a community for Lightning fans and we are here for you. That's a responsibility I take very seriously (and if you've seen my lawn, you know I don't take all my responsibilities that seriously). Every year is a combination of ups and downs and we really had some severe mood swings this season. But you know what? All that matters is that we all got through it it together and now we get to prepare for the insanity that is the postseason. That's actually a pretty fair trade, if you ask me. Best of all, It's nice to be able to say "see you next week" instead of "see you in the fall." Thanks, Lightning fans, for making this "job" possible and for letting me be a part of your experience.