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NHL Playoff Race: Lightning live to fight another day with a win

Lightning pull off a rare road win in Boston on the strength of Nikita Kucherov’s hat trick.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Islanders Brad Penner-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 took care of business, and they really needed to. With Toronto overtaking the Boston Bruins for third in the Atlantic Division, the Bruins now have the target on their back. This was an extremely important game to win for the Lightning to keep their hopes alive. If they lost this one, they’d be sitting seven points behind the Bruins with only nine games to play. Instead, the Lightning are just 3 points behind the Bruins with a game in hand and could close that gap to one point with a win tonight against the Red Wings.

  • Tampa Bay Lightning 6 @ Boston Bruins 3 - Best Case
  • New Jersey Devils 2 @ Toronto Maple Leafs 4 - Worst Case

Tonight’s Games that Matter

There’s only four games on the Friday slate, but we care about half of the games being played. Pretty much every game from here to the end of the season is going to be important. The Lightning are still trailing and need to play better than the teams in front of them to make it into the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Lightning @ Detroit Red Wings

Best Case: Lightning win in any fashion

OK Case: Lightning lose in overtime or shootout

Worst Case: Lightning lose in regulation

With a win, the Lightning can pull to within a point of the Boston Bruins for the 2nd wild card spot. It’s going to be hard on the back side of a back-to-back with both games on the road. The Lightning will need to come out with a lot of energy and take advantage of the Red Wings early. The Red Wings have not been a great team this year, but they have some scoring talent that can sting you. Andrei Vasilevskiy will need to have a solid game after getting the game off against Boston.

New York Islanders @ Pittsburgh Penguins

Best Case: Penguins win in regulation

OK Case: Penguins win in overtime or shootout

Worst Case: Islanders win in any fashion

The Islanders sit a point ahead of the Lightning in the standings. They also have a game in hand on the Lightning that could let them pull ahead. Fortunately, they are playing against one of the best teams in the league in the Penguins. A Lightning win coupled with an Islanders regulation loss would put the Lightning a point ahead of the Islanders and a point behind the Bruins. An Islanders win would put them in a tie for the second wild card spot with the Bruins.