By Dory LeBlanc
The Lightning are in the playoffs and will face off against the Canadiens in the first round - that much we know. What we don't know is if they will open that series at the Forum or at Bell Centre in Montreal.
Trailing the Habs by one point in the Eastern Conference standings with two games to go, Tampa Bay needed to win both to clinch home-ice advantage. The Canadiens only have one left in the regular season - Saturday against the Rangers.
The Bolts did their part, riding a now three-game win streak after disposing of Columbus Friday night. But they still have Sunday in Washington; if Montreal can get past New York with two points, that game becomes do-or-die for Tampa Bay.
After starting netminder Ben Bishop acquired an upper-body injury against the Maple Leafs Tuesday, Anders Lindback was forced to step in - and step up. The Swede performed more than adequately, stopping 64-of-66 shots in 120 minutes in net.
Those two 60-minute contests came with a day's rest between them, but following Lindback and the Lightning's 4-2 win over the Flyers Thursday, Tampa Bay had to wake up Friday morning and prepare to keep the momentum going later that night against the Blue Jackets.
Because of the lack of rest, head coach Jon Cooper opted to go with his fifth round draft pick from last year, Kristers Gudlevskis. Although it was the first start in net at the NHL level, Gudlevskis has proven he can handle pressure on a big stage. The Latvian goalie stunned the world in Sochi when he replaced the veteran Edgars Masalskis and allowed two goals on 57 shots against the eventual gold medal-winning Team Canada. Latvia lost, but the game opened the world's eyes to Gudlevskis.
Friday night, against a surging Columbus team, fighting for playoff positioning on a three-game win streak, Gudlevskis didn't face 57 shots, but he allowed only two pucks past him out of 38 shots faced.
When the first period ended, the score remained tied at zero, but the Blue Jackets were solely in command after allowing the Bolts to dominate every aspect of the game for the first 5:00. In 13 minutes, 54 seconds Columbus had amassed 14 shots to the Lightning's three.
3:55 into the middle frame, Ondrej Palat scored his 23rd goal of the season to give the Lightning the 1-0 on a power play opportunity. The goal is one shy of Tyler Johnson's rookie record of 24, which he reached the night before against Philadelphia, breaking Steven Stamkos' previous record of 23.
Nearly ten minutes later, Boone Jenner evened the score while Richard Panik was serving a hooking penalty, but Eric Brewer would give the lead back to Tampa Bay, scoring his second goal in as many games at 14:54.
The alternate captain added another with less than two minutes to go in the second period, giving him four on the season - with three coming in the last 98 minutes of play.
Columbus came within one after David Savard netted the second goal for the visitors, but Tampa Bay held on to pick up the much win to go one point ahead of Montreal.
Things were not all rosy on Channelside Drive, however. Already missing Sami Salo with an unspecified upper body injury, the Bolts went down another defenseman when Victor Hedman sustained a lower body injury in the first period. Also injured in the tilt was Palat, who left the ice after playing in the first minute in the final period. At the time of this post, the Lightning have not given a status update on the rookie.
Teddy Purcell (flu) and Valtteri Filpppula (lower buddy) also sat out Friday's game, but both are expected to play against the Caps in the regular season finale.
With the start, Gudlevskis becomes the only goaltender in history to appear in an ECHL, AHL, NHL, and Olympics game in one season.
First Period -
Second Period -
1. TB - PP - Palat (Killorn) 3:55
2. CBJ - PP - Jenner (Johnson, Johansen) 13:46
3. TB - Brewer (Paquette) 14:54
4. TB - Brewer (Kostka, Panik) 18:06
Third Period -
1. CBJ - Savard (Jenner, Comeau) 16:37
Shootout Tally: N/A
Shots On Goal:
CBJ - 38
TB - 22
CBJ - (1) ; (2) Johnson - Elbowing, Dubinsky - Slashing, Jenner - Holding; (3) Tropp - Roughing
TB - (1) Carle - High-Sticking; (2) Panik - Hooking; (3) Panik - Roughing / Roughing
Next up for the Bolts: Tampa Bay plays their final game of the regular season Sunday, April 13th at 3:00 pm in Washington DC against the Capitals. You can catch all of the action on sister station 970 WFLA with Hall of Famer Phil Esposito and Dave Mishkin giving the call with coverage beginning at 2:30 pm.