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The tight Eastern Conference; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Pittsburgh Penguins preview

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The Penguins are a single point outside of playoff seeding at the moment, giving weight to the game tonight against the Lightning.

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Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida | When: 7:30 PM EST
Radio: 970 AM WFLA | Television: FS Florida Sun, NHL Network (US) | Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: PensburghThe Pensblog

The direct divisional win on Wednesday night for the Lightning against the Detroit Red Wings was a nice achievement to have. The Wings following up and playing the Florida Panthers last night and losing 6-3 to the Cats was a positive too, breaking apart the tight-tight point race and eliminating opportunities too. A negative of that loss is the Panthers padding their divisional lead to 7 points over Tampa Bay (67 points to 60). Regardless, we move forward in the schedule and at the same time close out the Bolts seven-of-eight game homestand at Amalie Arena with a less direct opponent in the Pittsburgh Penguins.

As far as the 2016 NHL playoff race goes, the Pens are just outside the final playoff spot in the east - the #8 seed -- with the New Jersey Devils taking it over last night via their shootout loss. The loser-point broke a tie between the two clubs in points (they both had held 57) and pushed the Pens out of a wild card slot. Pittsburgh does hold three games in-hand on the Devils, so they're very much still in the thick of things. There's just not enough distance between the Penguins and the clubs chasing them in the standings (the Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes who both have 54 points) to think of the  race as simply being between NJ and Pittsburgh....And the New Yiork Islanders. The Isles hold the #3 seed in the Metro Division but only have 58 points - the same as New Jersey, and one point ahead of Pittsburgh.

Tight race, giving weight to tonight's contest for the sake of playoff contention. It holds sway for the  Lightning too as the Boston Bruins won last night over the Buffalo Sabres last night (also via the shootout), propping up the B's to 60 points on the season - tying them with Tampa Bay. So, that win on Wednesday did improve the Bolts in the standings, but they're still in the thick of a tight race in the Atlantic.

Evgeni Malkin continues to lead the Pens in points on the season with 49 (23 goals, 26 assists) but this guy named Sidney Crosby has sprung up with production and holds the second slot on the team with 45 points (20 goals, 25 assists). I guess this Crosby fellow is sort of good at the hockey, huh? In general the Penguins hold a 127-125 goal for/against differential, showing ample productivity from the lineup but also a leniency on defense that keeps games close. What a compiled goal ratio doesn't spell out is the recent record of the club: 6-2-2 in their past 10 games, including their 6-5 win over Ottawa the other night and the four game winning trend of the moment.

While the Lightning impressed through special teams on Wednesday night, Pittsburgh holds an edge on the power play with a 20.3% efficiency, good for 8th in the NHL. Their 83.8 kill-rate is also remarkably solid and ranking them 6th in league standings, 7 places above the Lightning (81.3). If the Lightning mustered their win on Wednesday with the man-advantage and a solid penalty kill effort, the club is likely going to need to achieve things on 5-on-5... Well, unless Pittsburgh stumbles on special teams.

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