The Tampa Bay Lightning got the help they needed, even though they weren’t looking for it.
No longer needing a win to make the playoffs, the Lightning look to close the regular season on a positive note—and maybe get a higher seed—as they face the Washington Capitals before beginning their Stanley Cup title defense.
This game also marks the end to one of the best rookie seasons in NHL history as the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin attempts to add to his point total of 105, third-most ever by a first-year player.
While Ovechkin’s team will not make the postseason, his performance on Monday helped Tampa Bay qualify. Ovechkin had a goal and an assist as Washington defeated Atlanta 6-4.
The loss by the Thrashers—ninth in the Eastern Conference—kept them three points behind the eighth-place Lightning with one game remaining for both teams, effectively clinching a playoff spot for the defending champions.
Following a 3-2 overtime win over Carolina on Saturday, however, Tampa Bay wasn’t even thinking about getting help from Atlanta.
“We have to do it ourselves,” coach John Tortorella said Saturday night, “and there’s nothing wrong with doing it that way.”
Still, don’t expect the Lightning to take this game lightly. Besides wanting to head into the postseason with added momentum, Tampa could move up in the East standings because it’s only one point behind seventh-place Montreal. The Lightning own the tiebreaker over the Canadiens, who host New Jersey on Tuesday.
“Obviously it’s tough on the stress meter. But that’s why you play—for this time of the year,” Tampa Bay right wing Martin St. Louis said after Saturday’s victory. “I feel when our back is against the wall we play our best.”
The Lightning, who have won nine of 10 at home, snapped a three-game losing streak Saturday by beating a Hurricanes team they could face in the first round.
St. Louis has scored a goal in four consecutive games and has 61 points this season, far off his 2003-04 total when he led the NHL with 94 and won the Hart Trophy.
Ovechkin is third in this season’s points race, trailing Joe Thornton by 20 and Jaromir Jagr by 17. With 52 goals, he is tied with Ilya Kovalchuk for third in the NHL this season and needs two to pass Mike Bossy for second-most in league history by a rookie.
Even with Ovechkin’s incredible season, Washington will finish with the second-fewest points in the league.
“I hope next season will be better,” Ovechkin said. “I think next season we’ll go to the playoffs, for sure.”