WASHINGTON – It came right down to the final moment of the final regular-season game for the Tampa Bay Lightning to secure home-ice advantage against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs.
“Let’s not kid ourselves: We still have to go in and play. It doesn’t matter where you play—the better team’s going to win the game—but it is nice to go home, sleep in your own bed, play in front of your home fans,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “You work so hard for 82 games, and it comes down to the last shot of the game in a shootout to attain that goal.”
Matthew Carle scored the only goal, Anders Lindback sealed his first shutout of the season by stopping attempts by Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the tiebreaker, and the Lightning edged the Washington Capitals 1-0 in the teams’ regular-season finale on Sunday.
“I’m glad I could deliver,” said Carle, who put the puck past Capitals goalie Braden Holtby.
The victory clinched second place in the Atlantic Division for Tampa Bay, which finished with 101 points, one more than Montreal.
“They really wanted to get over that century mark in points,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said about his players. “Everybody was genuinely excited for each other. That’s what makes it fun.”
Tampa Bay will host Montreal in Game 1 on Wednesday night. The Canadiens were idle Sunday, after closing their regular season with a 1-0 overtime victory over the New York Rangers on Saturday night.
“You hear stories from when they went on their run,” Carle said, “and the building sounds like it gets pretty rowdy.”
Ovechkin finished with an NHL-leading 51 goals, but he also had a minus-35 rating, and the Capitals failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07, his second season in the league.
“It’s weird,” Ovechkin said. “It’s kind of a hard moment to realize you’re not going to be in the playoffs and you’re not going to fight for the Stanley Cup.”
His between-the-legs attempt in the shootout was blocked by Lindback, and Ovechkin wound up 2 for 16 in tiebreakers this season. The Capitals played in an NHL-record 21 shootouts this season, going 10-11 in those games.
“A lot of ’em,” said Capitals coach Adam Oates, who has one year left on his contract. “There’s a lot of points there.”
Washington finished with 90 points, three fewer than Detroit, which got the last wild-card playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
Asked about recent speculation about his job status, Oates said: “For me, you know what? All you can really do, all I focused on, is doing my job. Doing the best I can. And don’t worry about it.”
Washington already had been eliminated but won four games in a row before Sunday.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, heads into the post-season on a four-game winning streak.
While Cooper explained beforehand that he wanted to win to secure the higher playoff seeding, he also knew he needed to rest injured players such as centre Valtteri Filppula and left wing Ondrej Palat.
“We want those guys to be ready for Wednesday. We’re taking every step to make sure that happens,” Cooper said. “I can’t sit here and say they’re going to play on Wednesday. But they will be better Wednesday than they are today.”
Notes: Cooper said he didn’t think LW Ryan Malone’s DUI and cocaine possession charges would be a distraction to the team. “Ryan is probably a little embarrassed of what’s gone on. He made a poor decision, getting behind the wheel when he had alcohol in his system,” Cooper said. “But for me, I’ve watched all the good decisions Ryan Malone’s made in his life, and how charitable he’s been and what a staple he’s been in our community in the years he’s been here. I hope this one instance doesn’t take away from that, because he’s been a class act for us, on and off the ice.” Malone didn’t travel with the team to Washington. His playoff status isn’t known. … Ovechkin and Backstrom tied for the team lead in points with 79. … Tampa Bay C Tyler Johnson briefly stayed down on the ice in the second period and hunched over as he skated off, but he returned to action.
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