TAMPA — The Lightning took the first step Saturday. After destroying the Islanders 5-0 at Amalie Arena, Tampa Bay can look forward. The Lightning clinched a spot in the playoffs for a sixth straight season.
“You have no chance to win the Stanley Cup unless you make the playoffs,” coach Jon Cooper said. “When you talk about winning Cups, we don’t even talk about that. It’s about getting in the playoffs, and then you can start putting your focus there. But it is really hard doing it.
“I look at this group. And they’ve done it so many different ways, with just different players. And yes, we’ve had that same core group, but there’s 10 or 12 players that did not win a Stanley Cup with us, and yet here they are finding their way back into the playoffs.”
The Lightning (45-26-6) will face the Maple Leafs in the first round for the second straight season, a matchup locked in by Saturday’s results. It is the ninth time in the last 10 seasons Tampa Bay has made the playoffs and the 15th in team history.
On Saturday, the Lightning got goals from players in that core group: Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov and Mikhail Sergachev. They also got one from Tanner Jeannot, his first in 18 games since being traded to the Lightning. Rookie Darren Raddysh picked up his first NHL points on two assists.
They also had goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy rounding into his playoff form.
“Obviously, it gives us peace of mind,” Vasilevskiy said of clinching the postseason spot. “It gives us so much confidence moving on. We’ve been playing good enough to clinch the last few games, but we have to play the same way the rest of the season and the same way in the playoffs if we want to be successful.”
Vasilevskiy turned away all 38 shots he faced for his fourth shutout of the season and second in his last three games.
“With ‘Vas,’ he’s human. I mean, he’s superhuman, but he’s still human,” Cooper said. “The fact is that some of the chances we’ve given up on rushes and things like that (in the past), when you start cutting those out, Vas usually takes care of the rest.
“I think we’ve helped him out. And I think he’s appreciative of it, because, you know, we think he’s the best goalie in the world, but even the best goalies in the world, we need to play a little bit of defense, and we can do it.”
The Lightning are proving that over this last stretch of games.
Sergachev opened the scoring with 2:07 to play in the first period. He is the second defenseman in team history to get 50 points in a season, joining Victor Hedman, who has done it twice.
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Sergachev left the ice limping late in the third period and did not return. Cooper said he did not have an update on him.
Jeannot, who had been stymied on several scoring chances over the past week, finally found the net. The fourth-line left wing snapped a shot through traffic and past goalie Ilya Sorokin 3:42 into the second period. That ended a 25-game drought dating to Jeannot’s time with the Predators.
Kucherov scored his first goal in six games on a breakaway from the blue line 9:57 into the second. It was the right wing’s first point in two games.
Stamkos scored his 33rd goal of the season 11:45 into the second when he deflected a Raddysh shot off his skate past Sorokin. Stamkos has 80 points for the seventh time in his career.
It was Stamkos’ goal that had Islanders coach Lane Lambert pulling Sorokin for backup Semyon Varlamov. Sorokin, who has kept the Islanders in the hunt for a wild-card spot, left after allowing four goals on 21 shots in 31:45.
Point scored his 48th goal of the season and 19th on the power play 13:26 into the third against Varlamov. Raddysh picked up his first NHL point on an assist to Sergachev and got his second on Stamkos’ goal.
Contact Kristie Ackert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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