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Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Lightning Preview: The eye of the storm

The final quarter of the season begins, can the Lightning make a run for the playoffs?

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina Hurricanes (25-25-9 59 pts) at Tampa Bay Lightning (28-25-8 64 pts) GAME 62

Time: 7:00pm EST

Location: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida

Broadcast/Streaming: SUN, FS-SE

Opponent SB Nation Site: Canes Country

Previous Game Musings

All that worry I saw on twitter about Andrei Vasilevskiy not being ready and that the Lightning were “blowing their championship window” from last game — I guess people forgot that this team still has top level talent and its “window” isn’t closing just yet.

Vasilevskiy played outstandingly in goal (especially during a first period where he faced a torrent of shots), Nikita Kucherov achieved a natural hat trick, and Jonathan Drouin picked up three assists as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Ottawa Senators. That was also the day fan favorite Brian Boyle was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Yes, this season has been a disappointment, but the doom and gloom talk of the Lightning’s status as a contender moving forward is hogwash. There are only six players currently on the roster that are over 30: Stralman-30, Callahan-31, Coburn-32, Filppula-32, Garrison-33, and Budaj-34. That is 25% of the roster. The Lightning are not going anywhere, folks. The playoffs might not be a reality at this point, but one bad season will not ruin this team.

Preview

The Lightning host the Carolina Hurricanes this evening at Amalie Arena to start the month of March. The Hurricanes are playing the back end of a back-to-back without star player Jeff Skinner (illness), and the Lightning will have the advantage of being rested against their opposition. The month of February was quite successful for the Lightning as they went 6-2-2 to keep themselves on the fringes of a playoff berth. Unfortunately, the teams ahead of the Lightning have also managed to keep pace points-wise, which has made climbing the standings arduous.

Carolina comes into tonight’s foray sporting a 3-5-2 record over their last 10 games scoring 17 goals and allowing 30. Additionally, the Hurricanes have only scored 148 goals (25th) this season, while allowing 171 (T-16th), however, they still boast the league’s best penalty kill unit at 86% (1st), though their weak power play at 16.9% (24th) counteracts the PK’s effectiveness.

Interestingly, the ‘Canes have been a very strong possession team this season with a Corsi For % of 52.54% (2nd). The problem for Carolina this season has been consistent scoring and goaltending. The team’s shooting percentage is in the bottom portion of the league at 8.21% (24th), while the goalies have only managed a team save percentage of .898 (25th).

Conversely, the Lightning have slowly been improving as the season has progressed, though it hasn’t been anything groundbreaking. Tampa Bay finally reached a goal differential of “0”, something that has been in the negative in since December. The Bolts have scored and allowed 171 goals (both are 16th) while the special teams continue to climb the rankings. The power-play currently stands at 22.7% (2nd) while the penalty kill is operating at 80.9% (16th). It should be noted that the penalty kill has not improved demonstrably, but it has remained steady for the past few weeks which is something the Lightning have not had for months.

As stated earlier, the Lightning have gone 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, however, the Bolts have scored 32 goals while allowing 21 over that span. The defense’s transformation from a sieve to a relatively competent unit has allowed the offense to finally find some consistency and earn the team some much-needed points.

The prior meeting between these two clubs was on New Year’s Eve where the Lightning closed out 2016 with a 3-1 win. Tampa Bay has won 13 of the last 16 games against Carolina. With the ‘Canes slowly starting to reel as the season enters its final quarter, it is imperative that the Bolts take 2 points here.

Only 20 games remain until the post season, and the climb for a playoff spot will not be an easy one. Of the remaining games on the schedule, Tampa Bay will play a playoff team in 13 of them, which leaves little to no room for any kind of slump. The projected cutoff for the playoffs is 91 points. This means at a minimum Tampa Bay needs 27 points just to barely make the cut. As a result, they must win at least 14 of their remaining 20 games to even stand a chance at making the playoffs.

It’s a long shot. Simulations give Tampa a 20% chance at making the playoffs, but this is the NHL, crazier things have happened (everyone wave to the Hamburglaring Ottawa Senators of 2014-2015).

Comparison Chart

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Brayden Point - Jonathan Drouin

Adam Erne - Valtteri Filppula - Vladislav Namestnikov

Gabriel Dumont - Cedric Paquette - J.T. Brown

Defense

Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin

Jason Garrison - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Peter Budaj

Carolina Hurricanes

Forwards

Brock McGinn - Jordan Staal - Phil Di Giuseppe

Sebastian Aho - Victor Rask - Elias Lindholm

Teuvo Teravainen - Derek Ryan - Lee Stempniak

Joakin Nordstrom - Jay McClement - Matt Tennyson

Defense

Jaccob Slavin - Justin Faulk

Noah Hanifin - Brett Pesce

Klas Dahlbeck - Ryan Murphy

Goaltenders

Cam Ward

Eddie Lack