TAMPA — Lightning backup goalie Louis Domingue turned the puck over then allowed a fluke goal just 14 seconds into Sunday's game against the visiting Oilers. Given how things have gone lately for the Lightning, it was not the best way to start a game.
But on the Lightning bench there was laughter.
"The big joke was we felt we had a lot of time to come back," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
The Lightning did, winning 3-1 to stretch its lead over the Bruins for first place in the division and conference to four points, and clinching a playoff spot.
And it did because of Domingue and the much-maligned penalty kill.
The Oilers were 0-for-5 on the power play and that included 28 seconds of a 5-on-3 with 6:35 remaining in the game.
"The first couple (of penalty kills), it was just outstanding work by the guys in front of the goaltender," Cooper said.
Led by Ryan McDonagh with four, the Lightning blocked 11 shots during the game.
"Louis was the difference in the end," Cooper said. "He made those big saves, and McDonagh stopped one and guys were just sacrificing their bodies. It was probably the difference in the game."
And because of that, the Lightning (49-19-4) shook off what was ailing it during Saturday's loss to the Bruins and, later Sunday night, secured a playoff berth when the Devils lost 4-2 at Anaheim.
Brayden Point, who has yet to experience NHL playoff hockey, said he thinks Sunday's game provided a taste of what he can expect. He offered the work by the penalty kill as proof.
"I think we worked hard on it," Point said. "We had guys blocking shots. Look at McDonagh. He blocked I don't know how many. Some real bombs he blocked, got in front of and that's a huge sacrifice from our guys who are willing to do that. I think we are committed to paying the price."
The Lightning penalty kills is ranked 26 out of 31 teams. It allowed two goals in the 3-0 loss to the Bruins. It did, however, stop the Bruins power play in the third period. Domingue said that created the momentum carried into Sunday's game.
"(Boston) had a couple of fluky goals on the kill, but overall we were pretty happy with the way we were doing things," he said. "(Sunday) was a matter of applying our system on the PK and we did. We did a tremendous job."
Victor Hedman tied the score at 1 in the first period with a blast from inside the blue line. Nikita Kucherov scored the other two goals. Domingue shrugged off the early goal, and the penalty kill made it all stand up.
Domingue stopped seven shots on the Oilers first penalty of the third. The barrage included back-to-back-to-back shots by Ryan Strome, Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
"We were sacrificing our body. Our D men were blocking shots like a goalie," Domingue said. "It made a huge difference at a crucial time in the game."
Later in the period, it was McDonagh blocking shots during the Oilers 5-on-3 and Domingue with a trio of saves, including one on McDavid.
"You can see what type of impact it can have on a game," captain Steven Stamkos said. "It went the other way against Boston and (Sunday) we won the special teams battle and get a much-deserved win."
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