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Atlantic Division title up for grabs as Lightning fall to Carolina

Heading into the final game of the regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning controlled their own destiny. Having already clinched a playoff spot, the next goal on the agenda was simple. The Lightning needed to beat the Carolina Hurricanes in regulation or overtime. A non-shootout victory would clinch both the Atlantic Division title and the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Following a 7-5 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night, the Bolts’ quest for the Atlantic crown hit a major bump in the road in Raleigh on Saturday night. Despite a 39-save effort from Louis Domingue in net, Tampa Bay fell to Carolina 3-2 in overtime in their regular season finale. As of right now, the Lightning still own the top spot in the Atlantic and the conference. Despite still having 113 points, they no longer control their own destiny. A Boston Bruins win on Sunday night over the Florida Panthers would give the Bruins the top spot in the East. Boston defeated Ottawa 5-2 on Saturday, putting them just one point behind the Bolts.

Carolina started fast, going up 1-0 just 19 seconds into this contest.

Jordan Staal scored when he tossed a pass into the slot that bounced off the skate of Ondrej Palat and into the Lightning’s net. The Bolts followed that goal with some very aggressive play, earning a few scoring chances yet unable to finish. However, Carolina got another odd goal just before the end of the first period.  Tampa Bay challenged the play for goalie interference, and their case for the goal to be overturned was strong. However, the situation room in Toronto disagreed, the play stood and the period ended with the Lightning trailing the Canes 2-0.

After spending part of the first period on their heels, the Bolts opened the second with a goal by Ryan Callahan.

With the Lightning forechecking and keeping the puck in Carolina’s zone, Callahan fired a simple wrist shot on net from the boards that squeezed under the arm of Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward and in the net, tying the game 1-1. The goal provided a big boost of momentum and kept them on the attack for the rest of the period and the game. On the other end, Domingue made several key saves, keeping the game within reach.  The Bolts showed tremendous effort in their offensive attack to close out the second period, keeping the pressure on the Canes. However, Ward and the Carolina defense was too tough to crack. The Canes carried a 2-1 lead into the third period.

Although the Lightning tied the game in the third period, they found themselves unable to carry that momentum into overtime.

Early on, Alex Killorn missed a couple of great chances to tie the game, but the equalizer finally came from the stick of Palat off a beautiful one-timer. After the game went to overtime, the path to the Atlantic Division crown became even more clear: the Lightning had to win this in overtime to make it happen. However, Tampa Bay was unable to get anything going in the 3-on-3 OT period. A turnover by Nikita Kucherov led to the ice being tilted in Carolina’s favor during overtime. A bad line change sealed the deal, as Elias Lindholm buried a pass from Teuvo Teravainen on an odd-man rush for the game-winner just 49 seconds into the extra period.

Tampa Bay now awaits their playoff opponent following the result of tomorrow’s game between Boston and Florida. If Boston wins, then the Lightning will play Toronto in the first round. If Florida comes out on top, then the Lightning will earn the top seed in the East and take on New Jersey instead.

Our Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Elias Lindholm – Scored the game-winning goal in overtime.

2nd Star: Cam Ward – Finished with 32 saves for Carolina.

3rd Star: Louis Domingue – Ended the night with 39 saves for the Lightning.

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