By the time they secured the second point with Anthony Cirelli’s overtime goal, their fate had already been decided since the New York Islanders had already lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but who wants to back into a playoff spot with a loss, right? It’s better to have earned it the old fashioned way - with a win.
With the berth in the postseason secured, this marks the longest stretch of qualifying for the playoffs in franchise history, eclipsing the four consecutive seasons that started with the 2002-03 season and ended with the 2006-07 season (don’t forget, there was the lost 2004-05 season in that stretch).
Under Coach Jon Cooper the Lightning have now made it to the second season in eight of his nine full seasons as head coach with the lone season they missed, 2016-17, a year where they fell just a point shy of qualifying.
During his tenure here is how the team has fared:
2013-14 - Lost in the first round to the Montreal Canadiens
2015-16 - Lost in the Conference Final to the Pittsburgh Penguins
2017-18 - Lost in the Conference Final to the Washington Capitals
2018-19 - We don’t talk about this one
2020-21 - Won the Stanley Cup over the Montreal Canadiens
2021-22 - ??????
Making the playoffs in order to defend their championship was the primary goal of the regular season for this team. Everything that has happened in this season no longer really matters. All of the angst that they’ve put us through with their inconsistent play can be thrown in the recycling bin (‘cause we’ll probably suffer through it again next year). Everything changes in a couple of weeks when the playoffs start, and this team has shown that they have the ability to flip into a higher gear when the games count.
The next couple of weeks is about staying healthy and tinkering with the line combinations to make sure everything is ready to go when the first round gets under way. There is enough hockey left to keep their opponent a mystery, but it’s trending to the one that it seems everyone wants to see - the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Lightning still trail the Leafs by four points for the second spot in the Atlantic (and home ice in their meet-up) but they did widen the gap between them and the Boston Bruins to three points. It will be interesting to see how Coach Cooper plays things down the stretch. He’s already indicated that Brian Elliott may see more playing time as he rests Andrei Vasilevskiy who has made 58 starts this season - the second most in his career.
The rest of the team will likely stay in the line-up with the exception of flip-flopping starts for Cal Foote and Zach Bogosian to ensure all of the defensemen are healthy and ready to go should they be needed (something that has happened in both of the Lightning’s Stanley Cup runs).
So enjoy the next few days, Lightning fans. It’s been a long regular season, but with the playoff berth secured it’s been a worthwhile one. Rest up for the fun stuff!