Playoff implications continue; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Philadelphia Flyers preview

Mike Carlson

While the Eastern Conference has all of their playoff teams decided, who plays who and where is not locked in yet. That makes tonight and tomorrow's games highly relevant for Tampa Bay.

Where: Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
When: 7:30 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Television: Sun Sports | Radio: 970 AM WFLA
Opponent Coverage: Broad Street Hockey, Orange and Black Pack

The Lightning will close out their regular-season home schedule with back-to-back games starting today with our old friend Vincent Lecavalier and the Philadelphia Flyers and ending with Union Army HC (aka the Columbus Blue Jackets) on Friday. Much like Tuesday's contest with the Toronto Maple Leafs, these games have playoff implications for all clubs involved; they're all locked in to playoff participation, but playoff seeding and first round matchups are still in question. Columbus is in a three way tie in the Eastern Conference with 91 points; while that tie with Detroit puts wild card seeding in question, they're also tied with division rival Philadelphia. It is possible for Philly to drop from 3rd seed status to wild card status if Columbus gets ahead of them points-wise. If that were to happen, Columbus plays the Rangers in the first round and Philly plays the Pittsburgh Penguins. If Columbus and Detroit both leap-frog Philadelphia, the Flyers would face the Bruins in the first round. If the status-quo remains, it'll be Flyers / Rangers.

And for the Lightning, home-ice advantage is still on the line in their clinched series with Les Habitants de Montreal. The Lightning trails the Canadiens by 3 points in the standings, with one game in-hand on them. Will Montreal go into their last two games - against the Islanders and the Rangers - with thoughts to defend their playoff seeding, or will they lapse? There is no telling, or how the Bolts will respond tonight against the Flyers.

Defenseman Michael Kostka participated in practice this morning with a regular jersey on, he had participated Tuesday with a red, no-contact jersey. Meanwhile, defenseman Sami Salo was not on the ice for the morning skate and is out. Via Twitter, Erik Erlendsson reports Kostka is in, with Andrej Sustr taking Salo's place in the defensive pairings. No telling if the Bolts will stray from their recent adamant use of the traditional 12 forward / 6 defensman lineup; during much of the season, the Lightning went 11/7 and they could apply it here as a just-in-case measure.

Anders Lindback is the veteran of the two available goalies on the roster right now, and he'll get the start. Being the de facto number one goalie in the wake of Ben Bishop's new injury makes his extremely limited playing time in 2014 (9 appearances total) a liability. All eggs going in one basket made it that way, but I digress. Kristers Gudlevskis, the first year pro that's played in the ECHL, AHL and Olympics since his drafting in June 2013, was recalled yesterday and may see playing time tomorrow or Sunday in Washington. The veteran-in-need-of-playing-time aspect would make you think Lindback would get all the starts here on out, but remember this is the goalie that has fallen out of favor in Tampa. Gudlevskis, on the other hand, has been seeing playing time in the AHL with Syracuse, splitting time (fairly) with Cedrick Desjardins.

Neither goalie has an impressive save percentage (though you can note Kristers .901 is still better than Lindback's .884) but Gudlevskis does have a lower goals against average while playing with a weaker team (2.68 as to Lindback's 3.11.)

Belated congratulations to Flyers center Vinny Lecavalier on reaching (and since surpassing) the 400 career goals mark. He's been through another roller-coaster season with injuries and a line demotion helping mark it, but he has put up 37 points in 66 games, reaching 20 goals on Tuesday night against Florida. I can't help but wonder if Vinny will end up playing there more regularly next season, or somewhere else? Philly is not known for loyalty toward its players, and the five-year deal that Lecavalier signed last summer with the Flyers appears four years too long. No move clause be damned, the Flyers will push players out as they see fit. Ask Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, etc.

Claude Giroux leads the orange-and-black with 61 points (27 goals, 54 assists.) While there is offensive upside to the team, offense was never in question when the season began - the defense has been one big gaping hole. And goaltending. Things aren't all that bad when you consider how the Flyers started the season and how they are now in the playoffs, but they're not as good as where they could have been. While Peter Laviolette got the axe as head coach early in the season, but it's Paul Holmgren who is long overdue to be given a pink slip for being liberal with player movement but having nothing to show for it except media headlines.

Ray Emery gets the start in net for Philadelphia tonight. He's posting a .905 save percentage and 2.87 GAA.

Other Game Coverage:

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