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NHL Playoff Race: Lightning do themselves no favors and lose ground

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The Lightning got outplayed by the Capitals, but it could have been worse.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Florida Panthers Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

With the Lightning clawing their way back into the playoff picture since the trade deadline, and with the end of the season within sight, it’s time to start scoreboard watching.

For the Lightning to make it to the wild-card spot, or possibly even third in the Atlantic division, they’ll need some help along the way. Not only do they need to win their games, they need to win more games than three or four other teams that are also fighting for playoff spots. With this feature, we’ll review how other teams helped (or hurt) the Lightning, and who you should be cheering for. We’ll continue this either until the Lightning secure a playoff spot... or are eliminated.

For every game we review, we’ll determine a Best Case, OK Case, and Worst Case scenario for each game. For each review, we’ll determine which actually happened for the Lightning. With thanks to @ElSeldo of Pension Plan Puppets for the inspiration.

Last Night’s Games

The Lightning did themselves no favors in the standings. Going into the game, we already knew that the Islanders had lost in overtime giving the Lightning a chance to move a point ahead of them if they could pull off the win. However, I did not have much faith in this team taking on one of the best and deepest teams in the NHL.

The Lightning is a team that is playing six legitimate NHL forwards, 5 career minor league vets, and a good, young prospect that’s on the edge of being NHL ready. One of those career minor league vets happens to be a defenseman playing at forward, too. We also saw some of the warts in Jake Dotchin’s game that led to a lot of people that follow the Lightning’s prospects warning fans to pump the brakes on all of the excitement about him. Given all of this, it wasn’t exactly shocking that the Lightning lost to the Capitals.

In the other game that mattered, the Toronto Maple Leafs played one of the top three teams in the Western Conference at home against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Maple Leafs were able to take the Blackhawks to overtime tied at 1-1, but gave up the winning goal in overtime. With the Islanders and Maple Leafs only getting a point a piece, it could have been worse for the Lightning. They now sit two points back of the Leafs and one point back of the Isles.

  • Washington Capitals 5 @ Tampa Bay Lightning 3 - Worst Case
  • Columbus Blue Jackets 3 @ New York Islanders 2 OT - OK Case
  • Chicago Blackhawks 2 @ Toronto Maple Leafs 1 OT - OK Case

Today’s Games That Matter

The Lightning will get a couple days off to rest, and hopefully will get at least one of their injured centers back into the line up. At this point, anyone would help, even Cedric Paquette, just to push some of the less talented forwards down or out of the line up. In the meantime, we’ll watch the scoreboard and see if we can get a few games to bounce our way.

For today’s slate, we’ll just be looking at some teams that are chasing the Lightning and everyone else, plus the Los Angeles Kings. We continue to watch the Kings with hopes that they’ll get into the playoffs so the Lightning will get an additional draft pick out of the Ben Bishop trade.

Florida Panthers @ Pittsburgh Penguins

Best Case: Penguins win in regulation

OK Case: Penguins win in overtime or shootout

Worst Case: Panthers win in any fashion

The Panthers have kept pace recently, sitting four points behind the Lightning and six points out of the second wild card. They’ve played one less game than the Lightning and the same number of games as the Maple Leafs going into this game against the Penguins. The Penguins are one of the top teams in the NHL and will not roll over for the Panthers. The Penguins themselves are attempting to better their position within the Metropolitan division.

Carolina Hurricanes @ Philadelphia Flyers

Best Case: Flyers win in regulation

OK Case: Hurricanes win in regulation

Worst Case: Either team wins in overtime or shootout

The Hurricanes have crept back in to the bubble-bubble teams. They sit at 72 points with the Flyers but have a game in hand. If they win the two extra games they have over the Lightning, they could pull to within one point of the Lightning. The reality is that both of these teams are unlikely to climb ahead of the teams in front of them to get into the wild card conversation. However, it’s good to keep an eye on them just to be sure for a few more games. With that in mind, we just want someone to win in regulation so they don’t both get points.

Los Angeles Kings @ Calgary Flames

Best Case: Kings win in any fashion

OK Case: Kings lose in overtime or shootout

Worst Case: Kings lose in regulation

The Kings’ playoff chances have been looking bleak recently, especially after losses to St. Louis Blues and Arizona Coyotes earlier this week. They did pick up a win against the Sabres, though. They sit six points behind the Nashville Predators for the second wild card spot. The Blues also sit at 81 points and have the third place position in the Central Division due to a tie breaker over the Preds.