TAMPA — There was a weird mix of emotions in the Lightning locker room Thursday night.
On one hand, there was the sense of a job well-done. Tampa Bay's 2-1 victory over the Penguins clinched the team's first playoff spot since 2007 in front of an announced sellout of 20,126 in a game with postseason atmosphere and implications.
Owner Jeff Vinik made an appearance, smiling and shaking players' hands, and saying, "With the team we've put in place, I couldn't be more excited."
Still, no one was throwing any parties.
As goaltender Dwayne Roloson said, "Everyone is happy we won, but we can't be complacent. We have to focus on the things we have to do to win hockey games."
The Lightning (42-24-11) did that for the third straight game, and it did so against a team it appears likely to meet in the first round of the playoffs. Steve Downie and Marty St. Louis had first-period goals. Roloson made 36 saves as Pittsburgh had a 37-24 shot advantage, 31-16 after the first period.
But a statement game? One in which potential playoff opponents take each other's measure? Tampa Bay would not go that far.
Perhaps that was because the Penguins were without injured stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. More likely, it was the message that trickled down from the top.
"We've established certain standards and a work ethic," general manager Steve Yzerman said. "We've accomplished a few things, but it doesn't make it a successful season yet."
And though coach Guy Boucher gave credit to players who "battled all year," he complained about how turnovers and penalties sapped the team's momentum and led to the Penguins dominating puck possession.
"I congratulated them," Boucher said, "but I equalized things pretty fast."
Still, given the Lightning has been pretty much a doormat the past three seasons, kudos were in order.
To St. Louis, whose winning tally gave him at least 30 goals for the sixth time in his career. And to Vinny Lecavalier, whose check in the offensive zone separated Kris Letang from the puck before St. Louis scored.
To Simon Gagne, who dug the puck from behind the net so Downie could score. To defenseman Pavel Kubina, who had a game-high five blocked shots. And to Roloson, whom wing Ryan Malone called "great" and Boucher called "solid" and who made 10 saves after Mike Rupp scored 4:31 into the third period to make it 2-1.
"They are a good team," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "They are dangerous."
"We're proud of what we accomplished," Lecavalier said. "But the focus is on the last five games and the playoffs. That's where the real games start."
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Downie 9 (Gagne, Stamkos), 4:51. 2, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 30 (Lecavalier, Hedman), 10:13. Penalties—Martin, Pit (interference), :39; Kubina, TB (hooking), 11:21; Lecavalier, TB (hooking), 14:20.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Hedman, TB (hooking), 1:59; Orpik, Pit (cross-checking), 11:45; Downie, TB (slashing), 11:45; Kennedy, Pit (roughing), 17:43; Downie, TB (boarding), 17:43; Hedman, TB (roughing), 17:43; Neal, Pit (holding), 19:28; Stamkos, TB (goaltender interference), 19:59.
Third Period—3, Pittsburgh, Rupp 7 (Kovalev), 4:31. Penalties—Rupp, Pit (tripping), 8:31; Kovalev, Pit (cross-checking), 15:36. Shots on Goal—Pittsburgh 6-14-17—37. Tampa Bay 8-6-10—24. Power-play opportunities—Pittsburgh 0 of 5; Tampa Bay 0 of 4. Goalies—Pittsburgh, Fleury 34-20-5 (24 shots-22 saves). Tampa Bay, Roloson 22-24-5 (37-36). A—20,126 (19,758). T—2:32.