Lunch bucket win puts the Lightning within an eyelash of clinching a postseason berth.
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 26 shots for the victory. He wasn't called on much, but he was there when he needed to be.
9:03 TB Hedman(9), (Palat, Kucherov)
19:32 NJ Henrique(28), (Kennedy, Severson)(PP)
11:32 TB Boyle(12), (Nesterov, Kucherov)(PP)
19:27 TB Kucherov(30), (Hedman, Paquette)(EN)
I don't want to overplay the quality of this victory because, frankly, they played a very offensively challenged New Jersey team and should have won that game. Putting that aside, though, the Devils aren't a soft out and the Lightning were playing without Steven Stamkos and still in the wake of the Stralman injury trying to figure out a defensive rotation that worked. It wasn't perfect. There were still some gap control issues at times and there was clear miscommunication on New Jersey's lone goal and a handful of other plays... but... it had to feel good to get that win in the fashion they got it. They ultimately got the W by outworking a team that is well known for being a very hard working team and they got the winner on a clutch Third Period power play. That's going to be good for the team's confidence as they hit the road to close the regular season and head on into the postseason. And, if I'm being honest, it will probably take some mix of that work ethic plus Bishop heroics for the Lightning to survive and advance out of the first round of the playoffs to have the chance to possibly add a healing Stralman back into their lineup and eventually add Stamkos back after the blood clot clears and make a run.
With Koekkoek a scratch, the Lightning coaches went with Option B and played Hedman 25:59, and it worked. He was fantastic tonight. That's always a card the Lightning can choose to play because Victor skates so well: just play the big fella every other shift and let the chips fall where they may. It's not something he's used to and in the past he's struggled with the heavier workload once he got above a certain minutes threshold, but the best in the game at that position can play half the game.
With 2 games left in the final 10-game segment of the season, the Lightning have 10 points for the segment and are 1 point off of the 80-game-mark goal of 96 points to make the playoffs comfortably. Their magic number, with Detroit winning tonight, is still essentially 2 points, but it's fair to say if they get anything out of the final 4 games of the regular season they'll be in. Making up the 2 points on Florida in the final 4 games of the year to win the Atlantic crown, therefore, may be the last real order of business that has any intrigue to it. The Lightning's matchup in the first round is going to be a pretty key thing, though, and there's no real way of predicting whether finishing 1st or 2nd in the division yields the most benefit. For the record, I think the Isles or Wings would be the most ideal matchups for the Lightning to make it out of the opening round.