Game 82 recap: Tampa Bay Lightning regular season ends on high note with 1-0 shootout victory over Washington Capitals

In perhaps the most meaningful shootout in Tampa Bay Lightning history, the Bolts prevailed on a game-winning try by Matt Carle, claiming the all-important two points and thus home ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens.

The Tampa Bay Lightning will probably be glad when the playoffs start on Wednesday versus the Montreal Canadiens for a few reasons.

First, they're in. The first, and most prominent, regular season goal of every club is to simply "get in", because, as they say, once you're in anything can happen.

So, mission accomplished there.

Second, though it took an 5 minute 4v4 session and a skills competition, the Lightning claimed both points on the table from the Washington Capitals, which is good because they needed both to take home ice advantage in their first round playoff series. Game 1 will be played on Wednesday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum rather than at the Bell Centre. Even the lone point earned by getting to overtime wouldn't have been enough, as Montreal held the tiebreaker by virtue of more regulation and overtime wins (ROWs).

Thirdly, they won't have to decide another game by way of a shootout until the fall.

Having already been eliminated from playoff contention, the Caps mostly sleptwalk through regulation, getting hemmed in their own zone with regularity and getting outplayed by a much more motivated Lightning squad.

The Bolts outshot the Caps 11-3 in the first period and 12-4 in the second, and while the Caps managed a few noteworthy scoring chances, were outworked in all areas of the ice and beaten handily in the first forty minutes pretty much everywhere except the scoreboard. Braden Holtby was solid in net for the Caps, keeping his team in a game where they were dominated throughout in terms of puck possession and stopping a few grade A chances as well, including a near-clean breakaway for Steven Stamkos midway through the first.

The Caps played best in the third period, finally matching the Lightning at 5v5 after generating some offensive looks on their only power play of the afternoon, which came following an early penalty to Victor Hedman for delay of game/puck over glass. Anders Lindback, starting again in place of the injured Ben Bishop, make perhaps his best save of the night (or maybe even the year) sliding over to stop Nicklas Backstrom in tight on that power play opportunity after a terrific 5v4 passing sequence by the Caps.

The Lightning had a few great chances to win it late in regulation, including Nikita Kucherov alone in close and Ryan Callahan on a 3-on-2 from Teddy Purcell, but Holtby made the saves to keep the score tied and force overtime.

The Bolts also fired the only shot on goal of the 4v4 overtime session before heading to the shootout, where Matt Carle's five-hole goal was the difference. Lindback stopped Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom missed on an attempt that would have extended the shootout.

Game Notes

  • With just over two minutes remaining in the first period, Ryan Callahan took a forearm to the head from Caps goaltender Braden Holtby. No penalty was called, and the Washington Capitals TV broadcasters appeared to find Holtby giving Callahan a forearm shiver to his noggin amusing. I suppose you make your own fun when you're covering a non-playoff team. Callahan appeared fine after the hit.
  • With Ben Bishop shut down for the regular season while fighting mostly unknown wrist and elbow injuries, Anders Lindback played again, the third time in the last four games dating back to when he took over early against the Toronto Maple Leafs when Bishop went down. Over that span, Lindback has some impressive numbers: a .975 save percentage, a 0.67 GAA (which is admittedly a team stat, too) and three wins, and two shutouts (though only one "official" shutout.)
  • Lindback's play has been phenomenal lately, but he hasn't necessarily changed his game as much as eliminated some flaws and mistakes he was making earlier in the season with puck tracking and movement in the crease. That said, his current hot streak, which has seen his season save percentage go up 13 (!) points from .878 to .891, is unsustainable just like his poor play earlier in the year. He's probably somewhere close to his career average in terms of "true talent" (so, near .903 or so) so to expect him to keep being hot garbage or the second coming of Pekka Rinne is unrealistic.
  • Still, there's very little doubt that Lindback is on the best run he's ever been on in a Lightning sweater, perhaps even in his NHL career, so there isn't much of a goaltending controversy for the first round match-up with the Habs. If Bishop can't go -- and all signs say he won't be able to, at least not right away -- it will be Lindback in net, and rightfully so.
  • A secondary thread that arises from Bishop's injury and Lindback's play of late is whether or not Lindback is retained this offseason. After mostly abysmal play since being acquired two seasons ago, the general sense was that the organization would let him walk this summer when his contract expires and he becomes an RFA. But with lingering questions regarding Bishop's health and the status of Russian phenom goaltender Andrey Vasilevskiy, Lindback might be a cheap, smart option to qualify and keep for another year.
  • Recent college UFA signee Cody Kunyk made his NHL and Lightning debut in this game, skating 10:12 all at even strength and recording 0 points, 2 shots on goal, a hit and a blocked shot. He also took five draws, winning two (20%). He's a smooth skater and appears to have good instincts on the ice, and might be a built-in replacement for the depth that Tom Pyatt offered this season moving forward.