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Minnesota Wild at Tampa Bay Lightning Preview: The race tightens

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The playoff push continues as the West-leading Wild come to town.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Minnesota Wild Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Wild (42-16-6 90 pts) at Tampa Bay Lightning (30-26-9 69 pts) GAME 66

Time: 7:30pm EST

Location: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida

Broadcast/Streaming: SUN, FS-N, FS-WI

Opponent SB Nation Site: Hockey Wilderness

Previous Game Musings

An NHL team still employs Tanner Glass?

Preview

The Lightning really needed two points against the New York Rangers Monday night, it would have helped close the gap in the playoff race. Instead, the Lightning are currently four points out of the final wild-card spot and seven points out of the final divisional spot. As I stated in an earlier preview, the Lightning must win over 60% of their remaining games, and still need the teams in front of them to lose to really grab a foothold in the playoff race. So far, the Lightning have alternated wins and losses over the last four games while the teams in front of them have continued to win

Of course, what better way to help this playoff push than by playing the best team in the Western Conference! The Minnesota Wild are in town tonight and with that comes another chance for the Lightning to gain points (preferably two) in the standings. The Wild have continued to win because that is what a Bruce Boudreau-coached team does...in the regular season.

The Wild boast the 4th best offense and defense in the league, scoring 213 goals and allowing 151. In addition, they also have the 6th best power-play at 22%, and the 7th best penalty kill at 84.8%. This team just doesn’t do anything poorly -- except for maybe their possession game, which is still in the bottom half of the league. The Wild have a Corsi For % of 48.6% (22nd), but that hasn’t slowed them down one bit.

The last time the Lightning played the Wild I noted that the Wild’s shooting percentage was over 11%, and how radically different it was compared to how their shooting percentages were over the last few seasons. Well, the Wild are still shooting at a high percentage at 10.84% (2nd) and just to give more pain to their opponents, they also have the 2nd best save percentage at .942. Call it the “Boudreau Effect,” but this Wild team is a juggernaut this season.

Conversely, the Lightning are mediocre and still struggle on the penalty kill. The Bolts have the 15th best offense with 179 goals, and the 16th best defense with 181 goals allowed. Additionally, they have the 4th best power-play at 22.1%, and are 22nd on the penalty kill at 80%. Possession-wise, the Lightning are still a top ten team with a Corsi For % of 51.23% (7th), but possession doesn’t equate to wins when a team allows more goals than they score.

Tampa Bay played the Wild close the last time they squared off before losing in the shootout. However, I vividly remember how passive the Lightning became during the last ten minutes of regulation, and I also remember how utterly terrible they played during the overtime period. That mentality and style of play cannot be utilized here, and one point is not going to help the Lightning in the playoff race. Tampa Bay must dig deep, especially with all the veteran leadership they relied on being gone, and find a way to get two points against Minnesota.

The schedule is not going to give them a break (they play the Panthers, Rangers, Senators, Maple Leafs, and Capitals within the next week), and faltering even the slightest will doom the Lightning’s playoff chances.

The Lightning have had their backs against the wall before and have always managed to fight back, and it’s still possible they can pull off a playoff berth. But they must play better to position themselves better. The next week and a half will really determine if the Lightning are either going to battle till game 82, or be an afterthought before game 75.

Comparison Chart

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Brayden Point - Jonathan Drouin

Adam Erne - Vladislav Namestnikov - Yanni Gourde

Gabriel Dumont - Cedric Paquette - J.T. Brown

Greg McKegg

Defensemen

Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin

Jason Garrison - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr

Luke Witkowski

Goaltender

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Peter Budaj

Minnesota Wild

Forwards

Zach Parise - Eric Staal - Chris Stewart

Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Mikael Granlund

Nino Niederreiter - Martin Hanzal - Charlie Coyle

Ryan White - Erik Haula - Jason Pominville

Defensemen

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin - Matthew Dumba

Marco Scandella - Nate Prosser

Goaltender

Devan Dubnyk

Darcy Kuemper