For a second-straight game, the Tampa Bay Lightning had an opportunity to clinch a postseason berth but were unsuccessful.
The Bolts control their playoff destiny but, needing just one more win to secure the franchise’s eighth postseason appearance in 22 seasons, have found victories hard to come by.
On Thursday, Nashville snuffed out the Lightning’s playoff celebration.
Saturday, it was Detroit’s turn, the Red Wings blanking the Bolts 4-0 at Joe Louis Arena.
The Lightning (46-23-7, 99 points) were shut out for the first time this season (last time: December 14, 2013, at New Jersey).
Detroit (40-22-12, 92 points) salvages a victory in the regular-season finale against Tampa Bay after dropping the first three. The Lightning finish 3-1-0 against Detroit but are denied their first-ever regular-season sweep of the Red Wings.
The Bolts could see Detroit again in less than three weeks as a potential first round opponent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Red Wings scored three goals within a span of 3:54 a quarter of the way through the second period to take control of the game.
Joakim Andersson was the first Red Wing to light the lamp, scoring at 5:25 for a 1-0 Detroit lead. Kyle Quincey backhanded a shot toward goal, and Andersson was in front to whack the puck out of the air down onto the ice and through the legs of Ben Bishop into the net.
“You look at the last couple games, weird goals are going in on us now,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “A goal’s a goal. They count the same, but the conventional way of pucks going in the net, the last couple of games we’re inventing new ways of watching pucks go in. It’s a little frustrating. It hasn’t happened to us in a long time. Maybe what comes around, goes around.”
Justin Abdelkader scored less than two minutes later to make it 2-0 Detroit. Gustav Nyquist turned Nikita Nesterov over at the red line, and Abdelkader beat Victor Hedman to the loose puck at the Bolts blue line to start a breakaway, which Abdelkader deposited past Bishop stick side.
“The second one’s just a really bad turnover on our part, and I’ve seen Abdelkader score from there before,” Cooper said. “He just did it recently. He can put the puck in the net. That’s a tough guy to give that chance to.”
Nyquist capped the scoring onslaught by outracing Matt Carle to a puck that was iced by Quincey and caromed behind the Lightning goal. Nyquist sent his lifted backhander over the left shoulder of Bishop and into the top of the net for a commanding 3-0 lead at 9:19.
“We’re going through a bad little stretch here of not responding well after goals against,” Cooper said. “It nearly cost us the Florida game, and it cost us Nashville and Detroit.”
Detroit backup goalie Petr Mrazek stopped all 23 Lightning shots for his second shutout of the season.
Bishop was denied in his bid to tie the Lightning franchise record (37) he set a year ago for wins in a season, falling to 36-13-4 after allowing three goals on 22 shots.
Luke Glendening added an empty-net score with 1:39 to go in the game for Detroit’s fourth and final goal.
The Lightning also lost a pair of players in the defeat. Defenseman Jason Garrison was checked hard into the boards from behind by Abdelkader and remained down on the ice for a few moments before eventually skating off to the Lightning locker room early in the opening period. Garrison was diagnosed with an upper-body injury and did not return to the game.
“Gary, we’ll have to make a decision here soon,” Cooper said. “I don’t know if Gary’s coming back to Montreal with us. Obviously if he’s not, he’s heading back to Tampa.”
Late in the third, Cedric Paquette raced toward his goal to prevent an empty-net score but crashed into the post with his left leg. Paquette grabbed the back of his upper half of his leg before being helped off the ice by Steven Stamkos andAnton Stralman.
Paquette’s injury and status is unknown.
“There’s no quit in that kid,” Cooper said. “You can’t surround yourself with enough of those guys, and hopefully he’s going to be OK.”
Tampa Bay’s power play went 0-for-6 a game after going 0-for-5.
The Bolts and Wings each finished with 23 shots.
Tampa Bay falls to 18-4-3 versus the Atlantic Division with six games left in the regular season, five of which are against divisional opponents.
“Do you want to see our guys going down the way they are? No, but we’ve just got to weather through it,” Cooper said. “The end of the season is just as important as the start, and we’ve got to find a way to get through this.”
The Lightning continue on their final road trip of the regular season, all five games against the Atlantic, with a visit to Montreal to face the Canadiens for the fifth time. The Bolts have gone 4-0-0 against Montreal, outscoring the Canadiens 16-5.