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Gudlevskis strong in debut as Lightning down Jackets

The SportsXchange

TAMPA, Fla. -- Stopping 55 shots against Canada in the Olympics is apparently pretty good for the confidence level. At least it was for goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis. And his latest stop in a busy season could very well put the 21-year-old rookie right in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs, where confidence is a must in light of his experience deficit.

"(After) the Olympics, I thought I could do it here too," Gudlevskis said after stopping 36 shots on Saturday at Tampa Bay Times Forum in a crucial 3-2 Tampa Bay Lightning win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Lightning got two goals from veteran defenseman Eric Brewer and some peace in net to pass Montreal for second place in the Atlantic Division and home ice in their upcoming playoff series.

Tampa Bay (45-27-9), which won its third straight and tied a franchise record with its 25th home win, leads the Canadiens by a point with each team having one game remaining. They are assured to meet in the first round of the playoffs. Montreal hosts the New York Rangers on Saturday while the Lightning visit the Washington Capitals on Sunday.

Columbus, playoff-bound as an Eastern Conference wild card, fell to 42-32-7

Tampa Bay got two goals from Brewer in taking a 3-1 lead after two periods. The veteran entered the game with just two goals in his previous 75 games this season. And with starting goaltender Ben Bishop sidelined indefinitely because of an apparent elbow injury, Gudlevskis, an unknown turned Latvian star from the Olympics, stepped in to win in his first NHL start. Former backup Anders Lindback is the presumptive starter next week in the playoffs.

"If something happened and (Gudlevskis) had to go in, we didn't want his first game to be a playoff game," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "We wanted him to feel this environment. He was up to the task. He was outstanding."

Columbus center Boone Jenner tied the game at 1 with a power-play tip in the slot with less than eight minutes left in the second period with his 16th goal of the season. Defenseman Jack Johnson (27) and center Ryan Johansen (29) earned assists.

But Brewer put the Lightning back ahead with 5:06 left in the period when he took a pass from center Cedric Paquette off a clean face-off win and bombed a deep shot that appeared to fool goaltender Curtis McElhinney and slipped under his arm. Paquette earned his first NHL point.

Brewer beat McElhinney for another odd goal with 1:54 left in the period, hitting him in the shoulder with a shot that fluttered in for a 3-1 lead. Defenseman Mike Kostka (7) and right winger Richard Panik (10) had assists. McElhinney said he lost Brewer's release point in the first goal and failed to corral the deflection on the second.

Columbus coach Todd Richards said he did not consider a switch to starter Sergei Bobrovsky for the third period.

Columbus was whistled for three two-minute penalties in the first 4:42 of the second period, allowing Tampa Bay to build a sustained presence that led to a 1-0 lead on a goal from left winger Ondrej Palat. The rookie extended his points streak to six consecutive games 3:55 into the period when he took a pass from right winger Alex Killorn and pushed in his 23rd goal of the season. Killorn earned his 24th assist.

"We had a pretty good push (in the second period) but (Gudlevskis) played pretty well," Jenner said. "He made some big stops at key times for them."

Palat left the game in the third period after being walloped by Johnson in open ice in another worrisome injury development for Tampa Bay. Cooper would not speculate on any of several maladies surrounding the team.

"I don't know if you can ever fully prepare for injuries," he said. "The way you prepare for this is bring guys up like Paquette and throw him in some games. We bring guys up who we feel are going to help our team win. There's a potential that these guys could get into the playoffs and help us."

With the Lightning "under siege," Cooper said, defenseman David Savard took a centering pass from Jenner scored in the slot with 3:23 left to pull within 3-2 in the third, but that was as close as the Blue Jackets could get. Left winger Blake Comeau (11) and Jenner (12) had assists.

"I think there were a bunch of those weird bounces for both teams," Blue Jackets center Corey Tropp said. "I think we could have been better but I don't think it was that bad even though we lost."

NOTES: Lightning G Kristers Gudlevskis, 21, recalled with the injury to G Ben Bishop, made history Saturday as the first goaltender to start games in the East Coast Hockey League, American Hockey League, Olympics and the NHL in the same season. Gudlevskis' brief brush with fame came after he made 55 saves in Latvia's 2-1 loss to Canada in the Olympics quarterfinals. ... Columbus D James Wisniewski's five-game points streak was snapped in the game. ... The Blue Jackets have a franchise-record 20 road wins this season. ... Lightning D Victor Hedman played just two minutes in the first period and did not return because of a lower-body injury. ... Lightning RW Teddy Purcell (flu) and C Valtteri Filppula were scratched.

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