WASHINGTON — As the back-door play developed for the Capitals during a second-period power play and sharpshooter Nicklas Backstrom redirected the puck at what appeared to be an open net, all Lightning coach Jon Cooper could do was hope.
"You're gasping, 'Please get across there,' " Cooper said.
And goaltender Anders Lindback did just that, stretching his right leg to make an improbable save.
"Ridiculous," Cooper said of the defining moment in Tampa Bay's 1-0 shootout victory Sunday at the Verizon Center.
The win, the Lightning's fourth straight to end the regular season, gave Tampa Bay (46-27-9) 101 points, second place in the Atlantic Division and home-ice advantage for its first-round playoff series against the Canadiens that starts Wednesday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Defenseman Matt Carle scored the only goal in the shootout. But the story again was Lindback, who faced only 18 shots in the game — seven through the first two periods — but came up huge when called upon. He made three stops in the shootout, one on Alexander Ovechkin's through-the-legs trick shot.
"It's really nice to get this win," Lindback said. "It's nice for me coming in here, too, and to play good a couple of games. But overall, you look back at it, it's Ben (Bishop) that took us here. If it wouldn't be for him, we wouldn't be in this situation."
The same can be said of Lindback, who had played just 21 games before last week. But since coming in for Bishop, who went down with a left elbow injury in the first period Tuesday against the Maple Leafs, Lindback has stopped 77 of 79 shots and earned three wins.
"He's been unbelievable," captain Steven Stamkos said. "It's so rewarding for him to get this opportunity and play the way he has."
And it certainly is rewarding for the Lightning — which many predicted would not even make the playoffs — to tie the team record for wins and push past Montreal in the division and secure home ice.
"It feels good to be able to go home," Carle said. "I haven't experienced a playoff game in Tampa, but you hear stories from when they went on their (2004 Stanley Cup) run. The building sounds like it gets pretty rowdy. We're looking forward to that."
Said Stamkos: "Let's not kid ourselves. 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. Ever since we made the playoffs, that was (our goal), to play really good hockey heading into the playoffs and get home ice, and we've attained both."
For Lindback, who was just 5-12-2 before his current streak, attaining consistency came down to better positioning and not overplaying the puck — in other words, letting the game come to him.
And that is just what he did on Ovechkin's tricky shootout move.
"I just try to be as patient as possible and not bite on the first move because they take advantage of that," Lindback said. "I stuck with it and made the save."
The save on Backstrom, though, that was all reaction and athleticism from the 6-foot-6 goalie.
"I just tried to get my pad there," he said and added, "I have very long legs."
"It's such a bang-bang play, and it happened so slow in your head," Cooper said. "Just a phenomenal save. He won us the game on that."
And home ice in the playoffs.
|Lightning wins shootout 1-0|
|Lightning wins shootout 1-0|
First—None. Penalties—Kuznetsov, Was (interference), 10:47.
Third—None. Penalties—Hedman, TB (delay of game), :53.
OT—None. Penalties—None. Shootout—TB 1 (Carle G, Kostka NG), Wash 0 (Kuznetsov NG, Ovechkin NG, Backstrom NG). Shots on Goal—TB 11-12-8-1—32. Wash 3-4-11-0—18. Power-play opportunities—TB 0 of 1; Wash 0 of 1. Goalies—TB, Lindback 8-12-2 (18 shots-18 saves). Wash, Holtby 23-15-4 (32-32).