In the second-to-last home game of the season at Times Palace, the Bolts are once again poised to clinch a playoff berth... Mostly because the Montreal Canadiens did the Lightning no favors in their 6-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes last night.
So the Tampa Bay Lightning control their own destiny in tonight's match-up with the Pittsburgh Penguins. They win, and they ensure themselves a place in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. A loss, and they have to clinch a berth on the road, or wait for the Hurricanes to fail.
The best course of action tonight is the Lightning taking care of things on their own, on their home turf... But the battle is, of course, nothing to brush over. The Penguins are not a team that's going to be brushed off, or underestimated. They victimized the Lightning in January in that 8-1 post-Winter Classic drubbing.
One thing is for sure: The Bolts get one of their offensive cogs back tonight in the form of Ryan Malone. He was on the cusp of return on Tuesday, but it's a sure thing for tonight. How that changes the offensive dynamic for the squad remains to be seen, but his return to the Bolts is more than welcome.
Sidney Crosby joined the Penguins on their trip to Florida. That doesn't mean he will play tonight, but he is participating in skates now in an attempt to get back in playing shape. It is noteworthy because of the potential that the Bolts and Pens will meet up in the first round of the playoffs. With Crosby back, the challenge of overcoming the Pens becomes that much tougher.
While anemic on the power play (the Pens are ranked 24th in the NHL with a 15.6% conversion rate) they make up for it greatly on the penalty kill where they are the #2 team in the league when playing a man down. They are stopping 86.2% of opponent power play opportunities. They're also the top road penalty kill unit in the league, stopping 85.7% of opponents opportunities when they are a man down on the road.