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Lightning defeats Toronto to remain alive in playoff scramble

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Still, the Tampa Bay Lightning has a pulse.

The Lightning, clinging to hope in the NHL Eastern Conference wild-card chase, beat the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night, 4-1.

Toronto leads the Bolts and New York Islanders by three points.

“It’s about just keeping it kind of in your hands,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “You can’t sit here and look at what the Leafs are doing or what the Islanders are doing. You just look at what you’re doing. And somebody told me we’re the only game on the docket tomorrow, so it’s in our hands. As soon as you start worrying about other stuff, it’ll just affect your mindset. It’s kind of what has got us to this point so far. I’ve said this before, ‘Who’s next? Well, Montreal’s next.’ That’s what we have to focus on.”

Brayden Point scored twice for the Bolts, his 15th and 16th of the year. Nikita Kuchorov scored his 39th of the year, and Michael Bournival scored. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 26 shots for Tampa Bay.

Cooper seems to have enjoyed so many callups from the AHL.

“They believe in what we’re doing,” he said. “I’m sure people probably look at our lineup card tonight and try to figure out who some of these guys were, but you know what, they’re hockey players. They’ve got a goal and it’s one game at a time. But it’s just these unsung things that people aren’t going to sit there and say, ‘Well, we won this big draw.’ Well, Dumont won a big draw when we needed it. McKegg won a big draw when we needed it. Bournival scores a huge goal for us to make it a two-goal game, and you need, you just can’t rely on the Points and Palats and Kucherovs to do everything for you. We’re not anywhere without those guys, but you need secondary help and these guys, they’re there for us. And it’s just been a lot of fun to coach this team.”

Cooper said focus is key for his team.

“You can’t look too far ahead,” Cooper said. “I hope the guys don’t even know who we’re playing on Sunday. We’re playing Montreal. We’ve got to find a way to beat a really good Montreal team. We just saw them recently, and they, even though we took that game to overtime, they’ve got a good team and if we’re not ready to play the way we played tonight, you can’t exhale because we won this game. There’s a lot of road still to go. As I told the guys, ‘Enjoy this. Enjoy the plane ride. As soon as we land in Montreal, let’s turn the page and get ready for them.’”

The Lightning now travels to Montreal to play tonight.

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Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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