The Lightning and Capitals are no strangers to overtime or shootouts, but Monday’s was a new one. Tampa Bay beat Washington 3-2 in the first-ever shootout of the NHL playoffs.
Yanni Gourde called the ending “a little bit different” and Pat Maroon said “obviously, you want to continue that,” but they weren’t hung up on it.
Typically, the full-length overtime period is a hallmark of the playoffs. “There’s nothing like playoff hockey,” fans say, which quickly becomes “there’s nothing like overtime playoff hockey,” then “Game 7 overtime.”
That intensity and desperation to advance are still coming, but the Lightning aren’t playing elimination games yet.
The Lightning are in an in-between round. While other teams play best-of-five series for a playoff spot, the Lightning, Bruins, Capitals and Flyers are duking it out in a round robin for seeding. The NHL decided stats from the round robin and Stanley Cup qualifiers will count as the postseason. The round robin, however, follows regular-season overtime rules, even though the qualifier games use playoff rules.
Thus, the first “playoff” shootout.
“All around, I thought that was a playoff game,” Maroon said. “Obviously we’re trying to get as many points as we can to seed ourselves in a good position.”
The game celebration was more regular season than postseason as coaches exchanged phantom high fives and players made their way off the bench for helmet taps.
But whatever the oddity of a part-playoff, part-not playoff shootout, the good news for the Lightning is they won it. Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov both scored in the shootout, and the Lightning got the two points. They are now tied atop the Eastern Conference round robin with the Flyers.
“It felt like a playoff game,” Gourde said. “There was a lot of hitting, there was a lot of intensity. It was a tight checking game. It really felt like a playoff game out there, honestly. Ending in a shootout is a little different, but still I feel like it was there.”
The Lightning and the Capitals don’t need anything on the line for a playoff feel, though. Since they met in the 2018 conference final, they’ve brought that extra intensity to regular-season matchups as well.
That the Lightning came out and set a tone even before going up 2-0 was the unusual part.
“This was two teams that wanted to win a game,” coach Jon Cooper said, “and two teams that have played each other in the past and two teams that consider themselves upper-echelon teams in our conference.”
He said an actual playoff game would have been amped up even higher, that both teams have more to give.
The Lightning initially expressed concern with this format, because four teams will go into the first round of the playoffs having played desperate, elimination hockey and four will not.
They showed they are bringing some level of that hockey to these round-robin games, even if the rules leave them in regular-season mode.