TAMPA — The late-season injury to Tampa Bay Lightning G Ben Bishop opens up an opportunity for G Kristers Gudlevskis to be a part of NHL history.
Should Gudlevskis get the opportunity to start in one of the Lightning’s final remaining two regular season games, he would become the first goaltender to start games in the East Coast Hockey League, American Hockey League, Olympics and the NHL in the same season.
With Tampa Bay closing out the regular season home schedule on Friday hosting Columbus in a back-to-back situation, the opportunity seems ripe for Gudlevskis to make his NHL debut.
“He’s a prospect of ours so at some point he’s going to have to get into a game,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “It won’t be tonight but it might be one of the next two. And it will be a good story because he will have played in quite a number of leagues in one calendar year, but we’ll see what happens.’’
Gudlevskis, Tampa Bay’s fifth round pick in 2013, started the season with Florida in the ECHL appearing in 11 games while posting a 7-4 record, 1.83 goals against average and .925 save percentage before earning a promotion to Syracuse of the AHL, where he’s appeared in 34 games with an 18-11-4 record with a 2.83 GAA and five shutouts. Gudlevskis also found fame in a global spotlight, stopping 55 shots for Latvia in a 2-1 loss to Canada in the Olympic quarterfinals.
But Gudlevskis said he’s not thinking about being a footnote in NHL history circles.
“For me it’s only something extra it’s not my biggest goal,’’ he said. “I just need to prove myself in practice and hard work and maybe in the future I will deserve to start the game.’’
Rookie C Tyler Johnson scored his 24th goal of the season, setting a Lightning franchise single-season record by a rookie, originally set by Steven Stamkos in 2008-09. Johnson also pulled into a tie with Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon for the lead among rookies this season.
The goal game early in the first period when Stamkos fittingly setting it up with a cross-ice pass from the right circle for a one-timer past Ray Emery 2:00 into the game.
Back on the ice
D Mike Kostka returned to the lineup on Thursday, just over a week since suffering a concussion resulting from a hit to the head from Montreal D Douglas Murray on April 1. Kostka was unconscious on the ice before getting up under his own power.
Getting back so soon is a pleasant surprise for Kostka, who cleared all his baseline tests and had been skating with the team the previous three days.
“Going into it you try not to put a timetable on it because you just really don’t know the severity of it but if I were to guess how long I would be out I would’ve guessed it would’ve been out longer than this,’’ Kostka said. “In talking to the trainers and stuff, they say that it’s weird that sometimes the ones that look the worst end up being quicker recoveries. There’s not really any rhyme or reason for your recovery.’’
Out of action
D Sami Salo, who left Tuesday’s game with an unspecified upper body injury, will sit out on Thursday, though Cooper doesn’t anticipate Salo being unavailable for the start of next week’s playoff series against Montreal and indicated Salo could play in one of the final two games.
“The long-term prognosis is that he’s fine,’’ Cooper said. “He’s a big part of our team so I wouldn’t want Tuesday’s game to have been his last before the playoffs but we’ll see.’’
Nuts and Bolts
The Lightning scratched LW Ryan Malone, RW B.J. Crombeen, D Keith Aulie, C Cody Kunyk G Ben Bishop (upper body) and Salo. ... LW Ondrej Palat and Johnson are the first pair of rookies to each reach 20 goals in a season since Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane with Chicago in 2007-08.