TAMPA — How fitting a Lightning rookie sent Tampa Bay into the postseason.
Tyler Johnson scored a shorthanded goal at 12:41 of the third period to help Tampa Bay beat Montreal 3-1 in front of an announced crowd of 18,808 at The Forum.
With the victory - coupled with losses by Washington and New Jersey - the Lightning, with five rookies in the lineup on Tuesday, clinched a berth in the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and just the second time since 2007. Tampa Bay also pulled even with the Canadiens for second in the Atlantic Division, which carries home ice advantage in the first round, with a game in hand.
Tampa Bay won the season series with Montreal 3-1, with three of the four games decided in overtime/shootout.
The goal by Johnson was his 23rd of the season, tying him with Steven Stamkos for most by a rookie in franchise history.
In a season in which the Lightning have faced the loss of Stamkos to a broken leg, the drama surrounding the eventual trade of franchise stalwart Marty St. Louis and at one point this season carrying 11 rookies on the roster, Tampa Bay overcame all of that to earn the right to play for the Stanley Cup.
“You have to give the guys in the room a lot of credit, because probably the hockey world is now opening their eyes to who these guys are,'' Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “But I'm sure for most of this season there were a lot of people that probably looked at our roster and kind of discarded it a little bit. And these guys are starting to make a name for themselves in this league.''
Ryan Callahan - acquired from the New York Rangers in the St. Louis trade - scored on the power play, rookie Ondrej Palat had two assists while second-year pro Alex Killorn iced the game with an empty net goal with 44.3 seconds left. Ben Bishop made 25 saves for the Lightning.
Brendan Gallagher scored for Montreal while Carey Price was stellar in net, finishing with 28 saves.
“We are proud in here, it's been an adverse season to say the least,'' captain Stamkos said. “We battled through a lot of things and people were probably doubting us when certain guys got injured, the trades and the amount of young guys we had on this team. So it is an accomplishment. There is a still a lot of hard work to be done, but our goal at the beginning of the year was to get in the playoffs and we did.''
Tampa Bay had to go through a lot of hard work to get Tuesday's victory in a meeting that had a playoff atmosphere surrounding it heading in.
But Callahan's backhand power play goal 9:19 of the second period tied the game after Brendan Gallagher gave the Canadiens the lead in the first period.
That set up Johnson for the heroics as the Canadiens went on the power play at 12:14 of the third period. But after David Desharnais sent a pass back to Thomas Vanek at the left point. But the puck caromed off the wall and Johnson took off as if he had jet fuel in his skates to blow past Vanek and race in on the breakaway. After freezing Price for a split-second, Johnson pulled the puck to his backhand and lifted it past Price with 7:19 left in the third period that served as the playoff-clinching goal.
“The puck came up the wall, and I had a lot of speed and Price didn't think I could get to my backhand, I don't think, and he kind of over challenged there, so luckily for me I was able to get it over there and get it up,'' said Johnson, who is tied for league lead with five shorthanded goals. “I never really thought about (the goal as the one to clinch a postseason berth), I'm just happy we got the win, happy we clinched a playoff spot.
There was a scary play late in the game when Douglas Murray clocked Lightning defenseman Mike Kostka with a blatant elbow that appeared to knock Kostka unconscious. A stretcher immediately came on the ice, but after a few minutes Kostka was able to get up to his feet and skated off on his own power.
Murray was handed a match penalty for an illegal blow to the head, which carries with it an automatic review and will likely result in a suspension for the Canadiens' defenseman.
Kostka was going through concussion protocol following the game, but Stamkos said Kostka was unconscious on the ice as he came over to check on his teammate.
“That's a scary scene when you see someone on the ice, let alone one of your teammates, in that situation where he was out cold,'' Stamkos said. “You hope that Mike is doing great, but I'll have to look at it again. But if it warranted a (match) penalty, I'm sure there will be some repercussions from the league.''
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