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NHL Playoff Race: Lightning and Islanders continue to gain points

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It took overtime, but the Lightning beat the Red Wings. Islanders needed the same to beat the Penguins.

NHL: New York Islanders at Boston Bruins Winslow Townson-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 were set up to have a let-down game after beating the Boston Bruins 6-3 the night before. Back-to-backs where both games are on the road are always tough on teams. Even tougher, Detroit had two days off between games. The Lightning somehow managed a win, though, with the top line again pulling their weight off of goals from Palat and Kucherov in overtime to seal the win.

On the other side of the scoreboard, the Islanders were taking on a much tougher opponent in the Penguins. The Islanders gave up a 2-1 and 3-2 lead before coming back to take the win in the shootout. The fact that it went to a shootout is a small plus for the Lightning because it helps in the tiebreaker column.

With the Islanders win, they moved into a tie with the Bruins for points while the Lightning remain one point in back of both teams. With a game in hand on both the Lightning and Bruins, the Islanders are in an advantageous position to hold on to the second wild card position. Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs have continued to pull away and sits three points up on the Bruins and four points up on the Lightning for third in the Atlantic Division.

  • Tampa Bay Lightning 2 @ Detroit Red Wings 1 OT - Best Case
  • New York Islanders 4 @ Pittsburgh Penguins 3 OT/SO - Worst Case

Todays’ Games that Matter

Saturdays almost always bring a busy slate of games and today is no different. There are a few games to keep an eye on, including one where no matter who wins, a team will be gaining ground on the Lightning in the standings. We’re down into the final stretch where every team in the NHL is on their final ten games with many, including the Lightning, having eight games to go.

Toronto Maple Leafs @ Buffalo Sabres

Best Case: Sabres win in regulation

OK Case: Sabres win in overtime or shootout

Worst Case: Maple Leafs win in any fashion

If the Islanders gain ground on the Lightning and ultimately surpass the Maple Leafs’ point total, then the Maple Leafs are the team the Lightning have to surpass. That is a somewhat unlikely scenario, but still within the realm of possibility.

Carolina Hurricanes @ New Jersey Devils

Best Case: Devils win in regulation

OK Case: Devils win in overtime or shootout

Worst Case: Hurricanes win in any fashion

The Hurricanes have crept back into the playoffs race with a 6-1-3 run recently. They sit four points behind the Lightning. The only reason I’m including them here is because they have two games in hand on the Lightning. If they were to win those two extra games and then match the Lightning’s record over the last eight games, they would be in a tie with the Lightning.

Boston Bruins @ New York Islanders

Best Case: Bruins win in regulation

OK Case: Islanders win in regulation

Worst Case: Bruins or Islanders win in overtime or shootout

No matter what, one of these teams is gaining ground on the Lightning in the standings. With both teams being tied in points, and with the Islanders having an extra game in hand, we’d prefer for the Bruins to win in regulation. Plus, the Lightning have another game remaining against the Bruins. The Bruins have an advantage being at home, and the Islanders are on the second game of a back-to-back. The worst case scenario in this game is definitely for both teams to get a point.