TAMPA — Lightning coach Jon Cooper began his postgame meeting with reporters with this:
"Okay, zero questions about injuries. Let's go from there."
But injuries were a major story in Friday night's 3-2 victory over the Blue Jackets in the regular-season home finale at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Bigger than a three-goal second period, Eric Brewer's two goals and the race for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Bigger than rookie Kristers Gudlevskis, who made 36 saves in his NHL debut, becoming, it is believed, the first goalie to play in the ECHL, AHL, Olympics and NHL in the same season.
"It is unreal," Cooper said and then joked, "Yeah, like, postgame speech, I gave (it) in the trainers' room."
Star defenseman Victor Hedman was lost six minutes into the first period with a lower-body injury. Rookie star Ondrej Palat, who scored his 23rd goal, left the game in the first minute of the third after a huge, clean, hit from Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson.
That was after the Lightning started the game without goals leader Valtteri Filppula (lower body) and Teddy Purcell (flu).
All will be re-evaluated today.
"The list goes on, but we're finding ways," captain Steven Stamkos said. "Guys stepped up. It's the sign of a good team."
A team that tied a franchise record with its 25th home victory (25-10-6) and can still secure home ice in its first-round playoff series with the Canadiens.
With 99 points, Tampa Bay (45-27-9) is second in the Atlantic Division, one point ahead of Montreal. Both teams have one game remaining. The Canadiens have the tiebreaker (total regulation and overtime wins), so the Lightning must finish ahead on points.
Tampa Bay, outshot 38-22, can thank Gudlevskis, 21, called up from AHL Syracuse this week after No. 1 goalie Ben Bishop was injured.
"I thought he looked very good, very square in net," said Brewer, whose two goals gave him four on the season and three, including two winners, in his past two games. "Probably a few more shots than we would have liked to give up, but he was very solid."
"My biggest dream come true," said Gudlevskis, who made worldwide headlines at the February Olympics with his 55-save masterpiece for Latvia in a 2-1 loss to Canada in the quarterfinals. "I'm going to wake up soon."
Gudlevskis wasn't the only rookie to contribute. Center Cedric Paquette, called up Friday from Syracuse, had an assist, was plus-1 and won nine of 14 faceoffs.
That kind of experience, Cooper said, is how a team prepares to deal with injuries: "You bring guys up and throw them into games. Now they've been under the bright lights."
And contributed to a win, to boot.
First—None. Penalties—Carle, TB (high-sticking), 12:05.
Second—1, Tampa Bay, Palat 23 (Killorn), 3:55 (pp). 2, Columbus, Jenner 16 (J.Johnson, Johansen), 13:46 (pp). 3, Tampa Bay, Brewer 3 (Paquette), 14:54. 4, Tampa Bay, Brewer 4 (Kostka, Panik), 18:06. Penalties—J.Johnson, Clm (elbowing), :27; Dubinsky, Clm (slashing), 2:37; Jenner, Clm (holding), 4:42; Panik, TB (hooking), 12:52.
Third—5, Columbus, Savard 5 (Jenner, Comeau), 16:37. Penalties—Tropp, Clm (roughing), 2:51; Panik, TB, served by Kucherov, double minor (roughing), 2:51. Shots on Goal—Columbus 14-13-11—38. Tampa Bay 8-11-3—22. Power-play opportunities—Columbus 1 of 3; Tampa Bay 1 of 3. Goalies—Columbus, McElhinney 10-11-1 (22 shots-19 saves). Tampa Bay, Gudlevskis 1-0-0 (38-36). A—18,686 (19,204).