Coming in with a four game losing streak, the Tampa Bay Lightning hoped to fine-tune their game and possibly hit individual milestones in the final regular season game against the much-improved Detroit Red Wings.
Mission accomplished on all fronts. Brandon Hagel scored 30 goals, Alex Killorn reached a career-high 27 goals, and backup goaltender Brian Elliott made 32 saves for a shutout in what could be his final NHL game.
However, the biggest story entering this game was center Brayden Point’s quest to join the 50 goal club. He had numerous opportunities before finally breaking through on a third period power play. An empty netter tied him with captain Steven Stamkos for the third most goals in franchise history at 51.
Head coach Jon Cooper chose to rest defenseman Victor Hedman and Erik Cernak, along with starting netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy, in advance of the Lightning’s first round matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
While this game meant little in terms of playoff seeding and home ice, it was a great tuneup for the Lightning. They played hard, defended well, and made the most of what chances they created offensively.
Not to be forgotten, the Red Wings and netminder Ville Husso gave themselves a chance with only one goal against through 40 minutes. The third demonstrated their inability to keep games close long enough to get at least one point.
This game sends the Lightning into the postseason with a little momentum. The Maple Leafs have the upper hand, with a bunch of victories over their past few games. That includes a recent 4-3 win over the Bolts and Vasilevskiy at Amalie Arena.
In saying that, the Lightning showed what they can accomplish when playing a defense-first game. They can beat anyone when they pay attention to detail and limit the number of shots their goaltenders face.
Moving forward, this is the style they must play in order to beat a talented, high-scoring, dangerous team like Toronto.
Can the Lightning do that in an intense seven game series? That answer will come in the next two weeks and could be the determining factor in who moves on to the second round.