It was a question of when, and certainly not if, the Lightning would clinch a playoff berth. That question was answered Friday night when the Penguins defeated the ninth-place Islanders.

Lightning Notebook: Eighth Playoff Berth Under Cooper; Stamkos Closing In On St. Louis

TAMPA, FL. – It was a question of when, and certainly not if, the Lightning would clinch a playoff berth. That question was answered Friday night when the Penguins defeated the ninth-place Islanders.

Shortly after that game went final, the Lightning took care of business anyway with a 4-3 overtime victory against Anaheim at Amalie Arena.

From blowing a two-goal lead, to Andrei Vasilevskiy being pulled, to Nikita Kucherov’s tying goal with 13 seconds left in regulation, to Alex Killorn having two goals negated after reviews for offsides, including one in overtime, to the Bolts ultimately picking up two points on Anthony Cirelli’s goal off a Killorn feed, the game had its share of rollercoaster rides for the home team.

It was a question of when, and certainly not if, the Lightning would clinch a playoff berth. That question was answered Friday night when the Penguins defeated the ninth-place Islanders.
Nikita Kucherov, Credit: Tampa Bay Lightning

Nonetheless, Jon Cooper’s Lightning will be playing beyond the regular season for the eighth time in his nine full seasons behind the Tampa Bay bench. That is no small feat in and of itself, let alone when considering the challenges of abbreviated seasons and protocols brought on by the pandemic the past couple of years.

The only time the Lightning stayed home during the aforementioned stretch was 2016-17 when they went 42-30-10 for 94 points.

“You take pride in that, there’s no doubt,” said Cooper. “This is a tough league to win in, and to every year somehow find a way to punch your ticket, a ton of credit goes to the players because it’s hard. Especially since we won a couple of Cups, there has been ample opportunity for guys to take a breath, but they haven’t and they keep pushing forward.”

The Lightning are third in the Atlantic Division with 98 points, four points behind second-place Toronto and three ahead of fourth-place Boston, which is in the lead wild-card spot. Each team has played 74 games.

Vasilevskiy pulled: It was a rare sight to see Andrei Vasilevskiy being summoned to the bench after allowing a third straight second-period goal to the Ducks, the last two being 22 seconds apart. A 2-0 lead after 20 minutes evaporated into a 3-2 deficit mid-way through the second. Brian Elliott came on and stopped all 13 Anaheim shots, including 10-bell saves against Troy Terry in the third period and Trevor Zegras in overtime.

It was the first time Vasilevskiy was pulled since the back end of the 2017-18 season against Ottawa.

“I felt it was time,” said Cooper. “Three quick ones went in and I didn’t want to be in a situation where anybody loses confidence. I didn’t want to burn a timeout, and I thought about putting him back in. So, a lot of different things go into it.”

It’s not like it was all on Vasy.

“Obviously, it doesn’t happen often for Vasy to get pulled,” said Ryan McDonagh. “It sends a message to our group that we need to be sharper, we need to be better. We responded the right way.”

50th helper: Steven Stamkos had two assists Friday night to give him 50 on the season. It is the third time in his career that the captain reached the 50-assist plateau and he has done so in each of the past three full seasons, starting in 2017-18 when he had a career-high 59.

With 948 career points, Stamkos is within five of equaling Martin St. Louis’ team record of 953.

Longest homestand: A season-long five-game homestand resumes Saturday night (7 p.m.) against Winnipeg. Detroit is in town Tuesday (7 p.m.) followed by visits from Toronto on Thursday (8 p.m.) and Nashville (7 p.m.) next Saturday. The matchup with the Maple Leafs starts an hour later than usual in order to accommodate ESPN’s national telecast.

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