You can look at the moment two ways: The Lightning are at home for the final two games of the NHL season OR the Lightning start a four-game homestand tonight when they play the New Jersey Devils. The NHL playoffs, the known destination for the Bolts for a while (though not clinched mathematically until recent), muzzles the idea the season ends on Saturday. The also-rans pack it up and go golfing (or prep for the World Championships) while the league's elite will begin thinning its own herd on April 15th.
It will likely be all of two weeks between road games for the Bolts, with only four games played during that span of time. That all depends on the NHL's scheduling plan for the first round of the playoffs but still, it reinforces what was keyed in on during Tampa Bay's practice Tuesday at Ice Sports Forum: the break between games is a time to heal.
That being said, Alex Killorn likely won't play tonight or the season finale against the Bruins on Saturday. He's got his ambiguous-generalized-location injury suffered against the Florida Panthers on Saturday. It'll be 11 days between games for the forward if he does stay out of the lineup (meaning from Saturday until the beginning of the playoffs next Wednesday).
On the other hand, defenseman Victor Hedman should be back in the lineup for Tampa Bay; a sign of this was yesterday with the Bolts returning Slater Koekkoek to the Syracuse Crunch. Hedman's return is great and reflects what should be a beefing-up of the Lightning defense which is forthcoming.
Brayden Coburn also returned to practice, though a very limited practice in the red, no-contact jersey. His ETA to get back into action is another two weeks or so. There was an update on Jason Garrison's status this morning as he participated in the morning skate in a red, no-contact jersey. His injury is of an upper-body variety and he had been taking post-practice skates. His estimated return is also another week or two away (if not longer).
The Devils come into town having lost their last two games to across-the-Hudson, tri-state area rival New York Rangers (by a combined score of 10-3 at that). They're here playing for pride and as the potential spoiler as Tampa Bay still has a chance to win the division (though it depends on Montreal hitting a speed bump tonight against the Detroit Red Wings). There are probably forthcoming changes of all sorts to the Devils as the team is coached by committee at current. General Manager Lou Lamoriello is not of the variety to settle or slow-grow his roster through development... That and perhaps he'll concede that there are just too many cooks in the kitchen behind the bench with the Devils (though that committee is one he put together himself).
One thing that is working for the Devils in that committee is the power play, which Adam Oates once again gets credit for. While, offensively, the team is rather anemic. Mike Cammalleri leads the club in goal scoring with 27 and/but is tied with the team lead in points with Adam Henrique with all of 41. Cammalleri is also the team's only 20+ goal scorer this season. They are proving to be more effective on the power play than the Lightning. New Jersey is ranked 10th in the Null with the man-advantage (19.2% efficiency), that's nearly a full point better than the Lightning who are 17th ranked in the NHL (18.3% conversion rate) but also have a very potent offense.
The Devils defense also can do a whiz-bang job holding the line... They've only allowed 3 more goals on the season than Tampa Bay (209 as to the Lightning's 206). They're also in the top-half of the league when it comes to the penalty kill - 81.3 kill-rate is five spots lower than the Lightning's standing (9th ranked, 83.7 effectiveness).
Stats aside, the Devils are in this game with nothing to lose. Arguments could be had on what the Bolts have to gain or lose from this contest (playoff seeding being the focus). I'm a mite troubled that Ben Bishop starts in net. Yeah, it's been a few days since his last start... But we're also a year removed from Bishop's injury suffered to Toronto during the last week of the regular season. Andrei Vasilevskiy replaced Evgeni Nabokov earlier in the season, in part, because he's a capable NHL goalie. While keeping Bishop active and focused for the games ahead is wise, so is protecting that asset by giving his understudy a show of faith via a start.
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