The Tampa Bay Lightning secured a spot in the postseason weeks ago, but the team added another significant accomplishment to an already-lengthy list of season-long achievements Saturday night, and then added another just for good measure.
Saturday’s win tied Tampa Bay’s franchise record of 46 victories in a season, matching that of the 2003-04 Stanley Cup championship team, while it also eliminated the Hurricanes from the playoff picture, which will feature the New York Rangers in the eighth and final spot.
“I’m super proud of the guys,” Smith said. “It was a game that meant the world to Carolina, but we did an amazing job to come out hard and fight against them.”
St. Louis and Simon Gagne had a pair of empty-net goals in the final 2:16 to seal the win for the Lightning, who finished the regular season with seven wins in their final eight games.
Despite several teams in action tomorrow on the final day of the regular season, the playoff picture became clearer Saturday night following the Philadelphia Flyers’ 7-4 victory over the New York Islanders, which crowned Philadelphia Atlantic Division champions and awarded them the second seed in the Eastern Conference with 106 points. Tampa Bay will meet Pittsburgh, fourth in the East, in the first round of the playoffs, which begin early next week.
Cory Stillman had a power-play goal for the Hurricanes, and Chad LaRose also scored for Carolina, who despite a late-season surge, finished the year in ninth place with 91 points. Cam Ward stopped 28 shots.
‘’We knew we had a very hungry team we were playing against,” Stamkos added. “At the end of the day, we didn’t want to meet them in the playoffs, but we did want to finish the season really strong.”
Moore beat Ward at 6:45 to put the game’s first goal on the board, giving the Lightning a 1-0 lead, and Lecavalier doubled the lead after finishing off a breakaway less than five minutes later. The Lightning captain took a pass at the blue line from St. Louis and deked Ward before slipping a backhand through the five hole to take a two-goal lead midway through the first.
Lecavalier now has 17 goals and 30 points in his past 28 games, while the assist extended St. Louis’ points steak to nine games, tying a season-high.
Tampa Bay then padded the lead before the period was over, as it went up 3-0 on Stamkos’ 45th of the year at 13:17.
“It was a fantastic play by Teddy and Gagne,” Stamkos said. “Gagne did a good job of keeping the play in and Teddy made a great pass.”
Clark’s ninth of the season opened the second period scoring and gave the Lightning a 4-0 advantage. With the Hurricanes in the middle of a shift change, Clark finished off a 4-on-3 after taking a pass from Lecavalier down low and wristing one past Ward from the high slot at 10:53.
Tampa Bay’s penalty kill unit succeeded in keeping Carolina at bay to open the game, killing off three consecutive penalties, but found itself in trouble towards the end of the second period.
With Moore and Dana Tyrell in the penalty box following consecutive infractions, Stillman cashed in on a 5-on-3 power play to cut the deficit to three at 13:31.
Stillman’s 12th of the year proved to be the lone bright spot on the night for the Hurricanes extra-man unit, which converted on just one of seven power-play chances.
“It was key for me to get in good position, but our defense has been solid all year and tonight again,” Smith added. “They blocked a lot of shots and were excellent on the penalty kill.”
LaRose did his best to keep the Hurricanes in it, as he made it 4-2 at 8:33 with an unassisted goal after sending a shot past Smith’s glove from the right hash marks.
Smith, however, had other plans.
The Lightning net minder made a number of key saves, including several from in-close to shut down Carolina on his way to earning the game’s first star honors.
“As a team we played very solid on both ends of the ice,” Clark said.
St. Louis’ two assists Saturday night gave him 68 on the season, which matched Brad Richards’ single-season franchise record set in 2005-06. The Lightning forward also finished the regular campaign with 99 points, marking the second-highest total of his career after finishing with 102 during the 2006-07 season.
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