MONTREAL — Rookie Yanni Gourde picked the perfect time and place to bag a pair of goals for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
With the Lightning's playoff hopes hanging by a thread, the 25-year-old from St. Narcisse, Que., helped his team defeat the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 on Friday night.
Tampa Bay (41-30-10) needs to win its final regular season game Sunday against Buffalo and have Toronto and the New York Islanders lose to take the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They were coming off a win Thursday night in Toronto.
"It's pretty amazing feeling scoring two goals against Montreal in this building, but what we really wanted was two points tonight and that was my main concern," the five-foot-nine Gourde said. "It's amazing just being in this situation, a playoff push. It's very fun."
Nikita Kucherov scored his 40th of the season and Alex Killorn also had one for the Bolts.
The Lightning looked to be in a hopeless situation in an injury-wracked season, but a 19-6-4 push since Feb. 4 has them knocking at the playoff door.
"We've had a lot of guys hurt, but there's definitely been an urgency in these last 20 games where we haven't been close to a playoff spot and now we're a point away," said Killorn. "They (Toronto) have a game in hand but still, it's a great opportunity.
"That's why this team has done well in the playoffs (in recent seasons), because we rise to these occasions."
Dwight King and Artturi Lehkonen scored for the Canadiens (46-25-9), who end the regular season Saturday night in Detroit. Montreal opens the playoffs Wednesday night against the New York Rangers.
Montreal outshot Tampa Bay 29-22.
The desperate Bolts faced a Canadiens team that had already clinched first place in the Atlantic Division and rested three banged up starting defencemen — Shea Weber, Jordie Benn and Alexei Emelin.
"I thought we struggled in the back tonight," said Montreal coach Claude Julien. "But on Wednesday, we'll have a lot of players back."
He plans to rest several key veterans in the season finale. Goalie Carey Price, defencemen Andrei Markov and Weber and forwards Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov are among those who won't make the trip to Detroit. Third-stringer Charlie Lindgren will start in goal, although the coach said back-up Al Montoya has returned from an injury and will be ready for the post-season.
Kucherov could have had three goals in the first period.
The 23-year-old Russian was robbed by Price 3:59 into the game, then froze the Montreal defence on a rush and hit a post from the slot at 11:42, only to see Gourde fire the rebound into an open side.
At 19:50, Ondrej Palat flipped a pass into the neutral zone that the speeding Kucherov controlled with a quick slap of the stick before beating Price inside the near post.
Lehkonen found King coming off the bench with a stretch pass. The former Los Angeles King went in alone to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy between the pads for his first goal in 16 games as a Canadien at 9:59 of the second frame.
Killorn got it back at 14:19 on a rush after Cory Conacher forced a turnover at the Tampa Bay blue line.
Lehkonen saw his pass go in off a skate at 4:36 of the third but, only 21 seconds later, Gourde was left alone on the left side and put a Conacher pass into an open side for a fifth goal in his last seven games.
Tribute was paid in the first period to three Canadian athletes who won world championships in the winter season — cross country skier Alex Harvey, alpine skier Erik Guay and snowboarder Laurie Blouin.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press