There's nothing else -- in the regular season -- that the Lightning can do to prove they're a superior team.
Building off a strong second frame and some timely scoring, the Lightning built two separate two-goal leads before finishing the evening with an empty-netter and a 5-3 final.
The first period served to expose ongoing power play issues for the Lightning, who were handed three consecutive man advantages but failed to do much of anything with any of them. Lack of consistent time spent at 5v5 harmed the Lightning some, as their even strength advantage was impossible to capitalize on with so much time spent working their putrid power play.
Vlad Namestnikov opened the scoring early in the 2nd off a play set up by Ben Bishop, who made a quick outlet with the Habs changing to Steven Stamkos at the attacking blue line. Stamkos found Namestnikov streaking in on Carey Price for the 1-0 Lightning lead.
Unfortunately, Montreal managed a goal on a Tampa power play before Tampa Bay did, as a perfect Max Pacioretty snipe beat Ben Bishop from distance for a 1-1 tie. Jonathan Drouin followed that with another break-in goal, this one on the power play and set-up with an nice pass from Anton Stralman. That quickly re-established the lead for the Lightning, who played a great second period culminating in a Nikita Kucherov goal on the rush for a 3-1 lead. Carey Price had little chance with the breakaways and rushes the Lightning were generating with regularity.
Jeff Petry gave the Habs some life less than 30 seconds into the third with a fluky goal off a faceoff, and the Habs generated their only sustained offensive pressure at even strength just after that goal with the score 3-2. Vlad Namestnikov tallied again on the rush -- after an ice play taking a hit on an entry by Ondrej Palat -- to cut off the Habs at the knees and restore the two-goal lead.
After the second Namestnikov goal, it was like the wind behind Montreal's sails dissipated. Any momentum they'd built after drawing within a goal evaporated almost immediately, and the Lightning returned to dominance of the puck and the game, coasting the rest of the way at evens. But, a late penalty call on Steven Stamkos gave the Habs a chance with the man advantage. Tampa Bay nearly managed to kill it, but a long bomb from PK Subban near the center point made it through a mass of bodies and into the net to give the Habs life once again with a 4-3 Lightning lead and just under 4 minutes remaining in regulation.
Any efforts to tie the game for the Habs were spoiled by a Brian Boyle faceoff win and a long shot from Anton Stralman, who scored into the empty Montreal cage to finish off the Lightning regular season sweep of the Habs with a 5-3 victory in this tilt.
- The Tampa Bay Lightning have officially punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Now, we merely await seeding and match-ups. The Bolts remain a point back of the Montreal Canadiens for 1st place in the Atlantic Division.
- One somber note -- Victor Hedman took just one shift in the third period. Tampa Bay managed the game well -- Mark Barberio, Nikita Nesterov, and Luke Witkowski all skated big minutes while protecting a lead -- but another injury to a blue liner will be tough to weather for the Bolts. No immediate update is available, which is worrisome.
- The pair of goals (and an assist!) are just the tip of the iceberg for Vlad Namestnikov, who has struggled with assingments on lower lines but really thrived next to Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. He's come up through the ranks as a scoring line center so it's no surprise that's the role he's best suited for in the NHL, too. Syracuse might not get him back, and his presence helps soften the loss of Tyler Johnson, who is still day-to-day.
- Michel Therrien seems incapable of giving Tampa Bay credit for the way his own team plays against the Bolts:
Therrien: "We don't play our best hockey against them, that's for sure." #Habson690— Conor McKenna (@mckennaconor) March 31, 2015