Lightning stay alive in wildcard


Andrei Vasilevskiy sprawls to make a great save to deny a Canadien in a 4-2 Lightning win at Montreal which kept them alive in the wildcard race. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Lightning.

The Lightning are still in play for the final wildcard in the East. For a second straight night, they stayed alive by winning on the road against a Canadian team in the Atlantic Division. After beating the Maple Leafs 4-1 Thursday, they went into Montreal and defeated the Canadiens 4-2.

In doing so, Tampa Bay is up to 92 points with one game remaining at home Sunday against the Sabres. In order for it to matter, they need the Leafs to lose at home on Saturday against the Penguins, who could get Evgeni Malkin back. The Lightning were led by who else but Nikita Kucherov. The unreal Russian scored number 40 and set up the first of two goals from unsung hero Yanni Gourde. An undrafted free agent who spent a majority of the season in Syracuse playing in the AHL.

Gourde had a huge tally in the third which was great response to a Artturi Lehkonen shorthanded goal. It came 21 seconds later after a Tampa power play expired. Another AHL recall Cory Conacher set Gourde up backdoor for the huge insurance marker. Jake Dotchin picked up an assist. The same player who was speared by Brad Marchand. Alex Killorn also tallied.

It was Andrei Vasilevskiy’s first win in the second start of a back-to-back this year. He made 27 saves. He has been good down the stretch for the Bolts since they turned over the reigns to him after unloading future UFA Ben Bishop to the Kings.

Tampa trails the Leafs by a point entering the final weekend. All Toronto has to do is win in any fashion and they make it. However, if they lose the door is still open. While Tampa is idle tomorrow, the Islanders visit Newark to battle the Devils. It’s another do or die game for a team minus John Tavares. They’ve been getting it done thanks to Jaroslav Halak along with key contributions from Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson and others.

Obviously, scoreboard watching will be secondary. The Islanders must win and hope the Leafs lose. They have 90 points with two games left. If they do prevail and Toronto cooperates, their final game is at home against the Senators. Ottawa already is in.

Of the three teams, it seems the Lightning are a team of destiny. Given all the injuries with six regulars out including Steven Stamkos, who’s missed virtually the whole season, they are finding ways to win despite a lineup that has AHL players factoring in. They remain without Stamkos and Tyler Johnson. You have Kucherov doing all he can to get them in which has increased his MVP candidacy. At this point, why shouldn’t he be up for the Hart as the third player replacing the idiotic Brad Marchand? Kucherov is a one man wrecking crew.

Tampa has gotten big contributions from rookie Brayden Point. He’s scored and set up some big goals. Victor Hedman is the first Lightning defenseman to hit the 70-point mark putting him in contention with countryman Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns for the Norris. Jonathan Drouin has 21 goals and 32 assists for 53 points.

If they do somehow make the playoffs, that’s not a team I would want a part of. Especially if Johnson or Stamkos can return.

All this could be moot if the Leafs can win one home game. Whether it’s versus the Pens Saturday night or Sunday against the Blue Jackets, they know one more ‘W’ no matter how it is will clinch the postseason.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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