Tampa Bay’s 5-3 victory over Montreal on Monday was historic on a number of levels.
The Lightning set a new franchise record for wins in a season (47) after tying their best mark of 46 (2013-14, 2010-11 & 2003-04) last Tuesday night against Florida.
Bolts goalie Ben Bishop tied his career-best and Lightning franchise record for victories in a season (37), a mark established in 2013-14.
The Lightning broke 100 points in consecutive seasons for the first time in team history.
But, more important than any of those feats, the Lightning secured their eighth postseason appearance in 22 seasons of play by beating Montreal at the Bell Centre.
Vladislav Namestnikov scored two goals, including the game winner, and assisted on another to engineer Tampa Bay’s five-game, regular season sweep of Montreal.
“To be one of 16 to be able to play for the prize, it’s a relief, but there’s still more to play for,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We’re only one point behind Montreal, and we’ve got other goals we set, the main one was we wanted to get in because what happened in this building last year when we left here was a taste that we all remember and want to erase. For us to have a chance to do that is pretty exciting.”
The Lightning (47-23-7, 101 points) played without defensemen Jason Garrison (out 3-4 weeks) and Andrej Sustr (out 1-2 weeks) plus All-Star Center Tyler Johnson (day-to-day), who were all injured Saturday in Detroit.
Bolts blue liner Victor Hedman skated one shift in the third period and headed to the locker room without returning for the rest of the game.
Namestnikov kept the Lightning in the lead with a pair of the biggest goals of his NHL career.
After Tampa Bay exited the second period with a 3-1 lead, Jeff Petry scored 23 seconds into the third to cut the Bolts lead in half at 3-2.
But with momentum shifting Montreal’s way, Namesntikov snuffed it, scoring the game-winning goal to put the Lightning back up by two. Ondrej Palat carried the puck from his own zone up the left wing to the Canadiens blue line, where he slipped a pass off to the right for Namestnikov while absorbing hits from a pair of Habs. Namestnikov took his time before picking his spot past Montreal goalie Carey Price to put the Lightning up 4-2 at 6:21 of the final period.
Namestnikov recorded the first multi-goal game of his NHL career and his ninth score of the season. Since being recalled from the Crunch on March 4, Namestnikov has put up seven points in 12 games.
Palat got the lone helper. He tallied his 42nd and 43rd assists in Montreal to overtake Johnson (41) for the team lead.
P.K. Subban scored on a Canadiens power play with 3:50 to go to make it 4-3. Bishop, though, absorbed wave after wave of Montreal attacks down the stretch, and Anton Stralman scored on an empty Montreal net with 57 seconds remaining to seal the win.
Tampa Bay pulls within one of Montreal (47-22-8, 102 points) for first place in the Atlantic Division. The Lightning have outscored the Canadiens 21-8 in five victories and swept Montreal for the first time ever.
“I thought we played extremely well, and with a lot of the regulars out of the lineup, I can’t say enough about the effort those guys gave,” Cooper said.
After a scoreless opening 20 minutes, the Lightning broke the deadlock early in the second, Namestnikov netting his eighth of the season. Bishop was the key to the scoring play, spotting the Canadiens in a line change and sending a stretch pass up the ice for Steven Stamkos on the Habs’ blue line. Stamkos dished across the ice to a wide open Namestnikov in the right circle, and the 22-year-old Russian who started the month in AHL Syracuse deked Price to put the Lightning up 1-0.
Stamkos tallied his 28th assist and Bishop got his third of the season.
The Lightning went on a four-minute power play after Montreal’s Dale Weise was caught slashing and given an additional two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. The Canadiens, though, tied the game shorthanded following the first minor. Tomas Plekanec took advantage of a bouncing puck to carry into the Bolts’ zone on a two-on-one. Plekanec dished to Max Pacioretty just outside the right circle, and Pacioretty, the NHL’s plus-minus leader, went down to his left knee to fire a shot past Bishop stick side.
Jonathan Drouin broke a 0-for-15 Bolts drought on the power play to put the Lightning ahead for good 33 seconds after Montreal tied the game. Stralman saw Drouin splitting a pair of Montreal defensemen near the Habs’ blue line and sent an accurate pass up ahead for the rookie. Drouin shifted the puck between his forehand and backhand a couple times before putting the puck past Price stick side.
Drouin picked up his third goal of the season and first since December 15. Stralman got an assist as did Bishop, his second of the night.
According to Elias, Bishop becomes the first goaltender in Lightning history to record two assists in a single game.
Tampa Bay had gone three games without a power-play goal.
“The big response was Jo’s goal because…we’ve had all these power plays, we’re getting shots but not great looks and then they get the shorty,” Cooper said. “We had every chance to put our tail between our legs and for Jo to score that goal, that was a huge boost for us. I thought it was a big turning point just for our morale on the bench, and I think after we scored that goal, the ice was slanted for most of the second period.”
Nikita Kucherov scored at 18:07 of the middle period for a 3-1 Lightning lead. Palat kept the puck in the Montreal zone and hit Namestnikov in the center of the ice. Namestnikov, the Triplets pivot with Johnson out, slipped a pass off to the right dot for Kucherov, who one-timed a shot through Price.
Namestnikov and Palat grabbed assists.
Bishop moved to 37-13-4 on the year after making 25 saves. The Lightning outshot Montreal 44-28.
The Bolts improve to 19-4-3 against the Atlantic Division.
Tampa Bay plays the second half of a back-to-back Tuesday in Toronto against the Maple Leafs. The Lightning have two more games left on the road swing – Thursday in Ottawa and Saturday at Florida – before returning to Amalie Arena for the final games of the regular season against New Jersey (April 9) and Boston (April 11).