WASHINGTON — It seemed only fitting that the Lightning’s regular season ended in an unfashionable way.
Defenseman Matt Carle scored the only goal in the shootout and Anders Lindback stopped all 18 shots to record his third career shutout as the Lightning closed with a 1-0 victory against Washington in front of an announced crowd of 18,506 at Verizon Center.
“Fitting for the way this year has gone that we had to earn every single inch that we got. I’m very proud of the guys,’’ Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said.
The additional point for the shootout victory proved pivotal as the Lightning secured second place in the Atlantic Division, one point ahead of Montreal, and will hold home-ice advantage in the first-round playoff series against the Canadiens. Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals is at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Forum.
Tampa Bay ended the season with 101 points, the third time in franchise history the Lightning have reached the century mark, and finished third overall in the Eastern Conference.
“You have to give a ton of credit to those kids in the room, 101 points, they were pretty excited and fired up,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “They really wanted to get over that century mark.
“We just sat for a minute after the game and reflected on the year and you think back to everything that has gone on and where we started, how we ended this year and how we came into training camp, just the whole wave of emotions stacked into a two-minute conversation we had with the guys. Everybody was just generally excited for each other. Even the guys who were not dressed, they were all just fired up for what we just accomplished.’’
The Lightning were able to get it done in an unenviable situation, playing in an unfriendly building where Tampa Bay had been winless in the previous six visits and had just three victories in the previous 19 trips to Verizon Center.
And with Washington having been eliminated from the playoff race more than a week ago, the Capitals were playing loose during a four-game winning streak entering the game.
“We didn’t know what to expect from them,’’ Stamkos said. “They have been on fire, so we wanted to make sure we took care of our own end and stay disciplined. We stuck to the game plan.’’
Despite all that, the game was scoreless through two periods even though Tampa Bay held a 23-7 shot advantage. And when the Capitals, with the best power play on home ice in the league, got their only man-advantage opportunity in the opening minute of the third period, the momentum shifted.
But Lindback twice stopped Troy Brouwer in the slot and used every inch of his 6-foot-6 frame to stretch out his right leg and rob Nicklas Backstrom on a backdoor play at 2:08 to keep the Capitals off the board.
“I missed him a little bit on where he was at on the ice. Then he got the pass and shot it, and I was a little late,’’ Lindback said. “So I just tried to get my pad there and was fortunate enough I closed it to the post. It was an important moment on that power play.’’
It proved to be the pivotal point of the game.
“That was just a phenomenal save,’’ Cooper said.
That save allowed the Lightning to get the game into overtime as the offense failed to solve Braden Holtby, who finished with 32 saves in regulation and overtime.
Then when it came to the shootout, Carle proved the unlikely first one tapped on the shoulder, and he delivered in his second consecutive conversion when he slipped a puck between Holtby’s legs to secure the victory and clinch home ice in the first round.
“I was surprised, especially with the magnitude of the game and how important that extra point was for us. ... It was kind of a fluky goal, but I’m just glad I was able to deliver,’’ Carle said.
“To be able to go home here, and I haven’t been able to experience a home playoff game here in Tampa, but you hear stories about when they went on their run and the building sounds like it gets pretty rowdy, so we are looking forward to that.’’