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NHL Playoff Race: Another night, another chance to gain ground for the Tampa Bay Lightning

With everyone in action, the Lightning need a win.

Boston Bruins v Dallas Stars Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

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

With a light Wednesday night schedule, there were no games that we needed to be concerned with.

Tonight’s Games that Matter

The Lightning find themselves in a fairly good spot in the playoff race. They have a game in hand on the Boston Bruins and sit three points behind them. The team also sits a point ahead of both the Islanders and the Hurricanes. The Maple Leafs are a little further off and lead the Lightning by four points for third place in the Atlantic Division.

Detroit Red Wings @ Tampa Bay Lightning

Best Case: Lightning win in any fashion

OK Case: Lightning lose in overtime or shootout

Worst Case: Lightning lose in regulation

The games the Lightning play will always be the most important games. They won’t have Steven Stamkos back... yet... but it is sounding like he could be back soon, because his status has been upgraded to day-to-day. Jonathan Drouin has has started to come alive and Nikita Kucherov continues to lead the Lightning to glory. In the playoffs, teams need to get scoring beyond their top two lines. The Lightning are basically already playing playoff-style games and need to approach every game this way. The come-from-behind win against the Chicago Blackhawks was an exciting game that from the third Lightning goal all the way to walking out of the arena had the feel of a playoff game.

The Lightning will need to come out quick and score on the Red Wings to make sure that they don’t have a chance to spoil things for the Lightning. There has been a lot of bad blood between these two teams the past two seasons. It won’t be a surprise to see that come through in this game. The Red Wings would like nothing better than to play spoiler to their newfound rival. They’ve been eliminated from the playoffs for the first time in 25 years and are still a team with a lot of pride that won’t go down without a fight.

Let’s also hope for no injuries.

New York Islanders @ Philadelphia Flyers

Best Case: Flyers win in regulation

OK Case: Flyers win in overtime or shootout

Less OK Case: Islanders win in shootout

Worst Case: Islanders win in regulation or overtime

With the Lightning and Islanders tied for regulation and overtime wins (ROW), the first tiebreaker, if the Islanders are to win, the best way for them to win is in the shootout. In the event that Boston falls behind the Islanders and Lightning, and both teams end up tied in points, that ROW tiebreaker could be what gets the Lightning into the playoffs. If the ROW tiebreaker is tied, the Lightning own the next tiebreaker with the head-to-head match up with a 3-0-0 record against the Islanders this season.

The Islanders have now lost two games in a row while the Flyers are on a two game winning streak. The Flyers aren’t quite eliminated from the playoffs and sit six points back of the second wild card. It won’t take many losses for them to officially fall out of the playoff race.

Columbus Blue Jackets @ Carolina Hurricanes

Best Case: Blue Jackets win in regulation

OK Case: Blue Jackets win in overtime or shootout

Less OK Case: Hurricanes win in shootout

Worst Case: Hurricanes win in regulation or shootout

Much like with the Islanders, the ROW tiebreaker is important here. The Hurricanes have been on an absolute tear recently and it seems like they’re impossible to beat in regulation right now. The Lightning also hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Hurricanes.

The Blue Jackets have been the big surprise of the year. They’ve become one of the best teams in the NHL in the best division in the league. At 105 points, the Blue Jackets are second-overall in the NHL.

Dallas Stars @ Boston Bruins

Best Case: Stars win in regulation

OK Case: Stars win in overtime or shootout

Worst Case: Bruins win in any fashion

The Bruins have a big enough advantage in ROW that the tiebreaker won’t matter. The Lightning will have to pass the Bruins in points to get into the playoffs. Despite an ailing Tuuka Rask, the Bruins are still playing well and have won their past two games, and are 6-4-0 in their past ten. The Stars, though, are 4-5-1 in their past ten games.

The Stars are in the middle of a five-game Eastern Conference road trip. They’ve started it off with an overtime win against the Devils and a loss to the Montreal Canadiens. After taking on the Bruins in Boston, they’ll be playing a back-to-back with the Hurricanes on Saturday, and then in Tampa on Sunday. Over their next three games, they’ll have an opportunity to play the role of spoiler.

Toronto Maples Leafs @ Nashville Predators

Best Case: Predators win in regulation

OK Case: Predators win in overtime or shootout

Worst Case: Maple Leafs win in any fashion

With an advantage of two games in the ROW category, it’s unlikely that the Lightning would make up that difference unless the Maple Leafs get most of their points down the stretch in overtime losses or shootout wins. We noted the other day that Lightning fans should be the Predators biggest fans for about a week. They continue with their stretch of games against Eastern Conference teams with this game at home against the Maple Leafs. Both the Leafs and Predators have been playing well recently with both teams going 7-2-1 in their past ten games.