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Last throes of the season; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Ottawa Senators preview

We're in the last weeks of the season and the Tampa Bay Lightning are thisclose to clinching a playoff berth while the Ottawa Senators are just as close to elimination from playoff contention.

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Nikita Kucherov returns to the lineup tonight against Ottawa.
Nikita Kucherov returns to the lineup tonight against Ottawa.

Where: Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
When: 7:30 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Television: Sun Sports | Radio: 970 AM WFLA
Opponent Coverage: Silver Seven Sens, The 6th Sens

99.9%. That's the latest percentage of likelihood that the Tampa Bay Lightning will make the playoffs for the first time since 2010-11 according to Sports Club Stats. We're in a drawn-out final stretch of the season; the last 11 games to be played over the next three weeks. Eight of those contests are scheduled for the Tampa Bay Times Forum, starting with tonight's game against the Ottawa Senators, while a two game, back-to-back series will take place between Detroit and Buffalo with the season finale also to be played on the road (at Verizon Center against the Capitals,)

(Author's note: Before I go any further, I'll admit a big error of my ways - I thought we only played Detroit four times this season and said as much before the Olympic break. Didn't just say as much, I really made an elaborate preview about it. Oops.)

First thing's first though, the brief, two-game homestand at Times Palace and facing off against the Ottawa Senators for the second time in four days. The Sens playoff chances are all but gone with thanks to their own losses as well as the continued success of the Red Wings, who have taken over fourth place in the Atlantic Division with 80 points and two games in-hand over the Maple Leafs (who still have 80 points but have dropped their last five.)

The thing is, if this game is played at all like last Thursday's matchup in Ottawa, this'll be a wide-open game... And, honestly, there should be reason to think it could be a wide-open tilt like that; Tampa Bay is playing their fourth game in six days today. Ottawa is aching for a win, having lost their past four and are 2-6-2 in their last 10.

Nikita Kucherov will see his first action in a while as he plays tonight; he's been a healthy scratch the past five games. According to Damian Cristodero at the Times, Nikita is looking to have "a simple game." Hopefully, opportunity comes from a keep-it-simple plan; Kucherov has not scored a goal since January 19th. Well, one thing at a time - a good, technical game played and the opportunities will come later. Richard Panik, B.J. Crombeen, Keith Aulie and Mark Barberio are expected to be the scratches.

The starting netminder for the Bolts is not certain at this point, Ben Bishop may be in or not. Anders Lindback may be in or not. Bishop has been the workhorse for the Lightning and with that comes additional wear and tear. With playoff seeding and pride at the forefront of things the next few games - why not give Anders Lindback more time in net? Jon Cooper does think Bishop will start tonight, but there's no reason his backup shouldn't see more action in the closing days of the season.

Robin Lehner makes the start for the Senators in net; he made 23 saves on 28 shots last time out against the Bolts. The game was not a solid effort by either netminder (Ben Bishop being the other starter.)

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