What a whirlwind this season has been for Tampa Bay Lightning netminder Kristers Gudlevskis. Less than two months removed from nearly upsetting powerhouse Canada in the 2014 Olympics, the Latvian native made history Friday night, becoming the first player to appear in the ECHL, AHL, Olympics and NHL all during the same season.
And from the looks of things, it was quite the debut for a guy hardly anybody knew about heading into this season. His 36 saves propelled the Lightning to a huge 3-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, one that has them a single victory away from securing home ice in their upcoming first round playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens.
How big could that be?
Comparing the two regular season records, home vs. away, it’s pretty clear the Lightning enjoy playing important games in front of their home fans. A 25-10-6 record while inside the friendly confines of the Tampa Bay Times Forum serves as a bit of proof.
Of course, none of that may matter with the number of injuries this team’s dealing with right now. Playing without starting goaltender and potential Vezina Trophy candidate Ben Bishop, whose postseason status isn’t yet known, the Lightning became even more depleted as this week’s worn on, losing Valtteri Filppula, Victor Hedman, Sami Salo and rookie sensation Ondrej Palat over the past two games.
They also got quite the scare when another young guy, Nikita Kucherov, was hooked from behind on a breakaway, then sent flying feet-first into the goal post. While only shaken up it seems, there’s no doubt that play brought back nightmares of Steven Stamkos breaking his leg exactly five months ago to those fans wearing Lightning blue.
It should be noted, however, that there’s no indication regarding the type of injuries these guys have unless you count the always vague upper body or lower body specification. With that in mind, let’s hope and pray for the best, as a postseason roster minus some of your top weapons isn’t exactly ideal for any team, especially one dealt more blows than the Titanic endured before slowly sinking to the ocean floor.
Do the Lightning have enough in the tank for one more win, thus clinching home ice, or will they have to settle for a little less? Unknown as it may be, Sunday’s regular season finale against Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals will certainly be a game worth watching for Tampa Bay fans.