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Lightning clinch playoff spot a month before postseason begins

Photo Courtesy of Wayne Masut, Senior Staff Photographer

While plenty of  Tampa Bay Lightning fans were sleeping, what seemed like an inevitability finally became a reality. No, not Nikita Kucherov winning the Art Ross Trophy, although that feels like it’s inevitable as well. The Lightning officially clinched a playoff spot, and they didn’t have to take to the ice to make it happen.

Thanks to some help from the Anaheim Ducks, who crushed the Montreal Canadiens 8-2 at the Honda Center late last night, the Lightning’s spot in the postseason has been locked up. Having been on top of the NHL’s standings since November 29, the playoff berth was happening sooner or later. The fact it occurred a month before the playoffs start will be a comforting fact to some and potentially worrisome to others who feel the Bolts won’t have much to play for until then.

Ultimately, this team will be judged by its playoff performance.

However, what the Lightning have accomplished up to this point is highly impressive. They own a 15-point lead on the Boston Bruins, who sit in second place in both the Atlantic Division and the entire NHL. They’re challenging both the all-time single-season wins record (62 by Detroit in 1995-96) and points record (132 by Montreal in 1976-77). The Lightning could lose the remainder of their games and they would finish in no worse than third place in the Atlantic.

On top of that, the Lightning tied the 2008-09 San Jose Sharks by becoming the second-fastest team to clinch a playoff spot in the salary cap era in terms of games played and the fastest to accomplish the feat if you take the calendar date into account.

This tweet was posted before the Lightning’s 3-0 loss to Minnesota on Thursday, but Montreal’s loss still made it relevant.

Injuries and roster moves

The Lightning recalled defenseman Jan Rutta from Syracuse on Friday. This preceded Saturday morning’s news in regards to injuries.

In addition, Joe Smith of the The Athletic reported that Anton Stralman is also day-to-day.

Smith also reported that Louis Domingue will get the start in net tonight when the Lightning host the Detroit Red Wings at 7 pm.

This will be Domingue’s first start since seeing his franchise-record 11-game personal winning streak snapped in Boston on February 28. Look for Rutta to make his Lightning debut. After being acquired from Chicago in January for Slater Koekkoek, Rutta has suited up in 18 games for AHL Syracuse, notching three goals and eight points. We can probably expect to see either Ryan Callahan or Danick Martel take Erne’s place in the lineup.

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