Buffalo Sabres (33-35-12) at Tampa Bay Lightning (41-30-10): GAME#82
Time: 5:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: Amalie Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: SUNS, MSGB
Opponent SBNation Site: Die By the Blade
It’s been almost four years since the Tampa Bay Lightning played a meaningless regular season game. Due to the Maples Leafs win against Pittsburgh on Saturday night, the Lightning have been eliminated from the 2016-17 playoffs (that’s two years in a row the Penguins have eliminated the Lightning). Tampa started the kick down the stretch a couple of games too late and failed to make it to the postseason for the first time with Jon Cooper as the head coach (his partial season in 2012-13 doesn’t count).
Tonight they take on a team that has nothing to play for this year other than draft position. Much like the Lightning, injuries derailed the Sabres at the beginning of the season and they were never able to recover. This marks the fifth consecutive year that Buffalo has missed the playoffs.
Lightning fans will get to see Jack Eichel play, which is something that Olympic viewers won’t be able to say next year. The American has been a point-per-game player since returning from injury, and he leads a cast of young talent that is steadily improving. One of those young players is Alex Nylander, who is playing in his fourth NHL game. He is the son of former Lightning center Michael Nylander and brother to Toronto’s William Nylander.
As for the Lightning, they are, much like they have been all season, beat-up and battered. It’s been a tough year for them. They’ve had to deal with the loss of their captain a month into the season. Nagging injuries have hit their entire line-up (not a single player will have played in all 82 games). They were sellers at the deadline that saw their number one goaltender (Ben Bishop) and clubhouse leader (Brian Boyle) depart. For the first time in his tenure, this season saw Coach Cooper’s seat start to get a little warm.
Despite that, they battled to the end for a playoff spot. Even though they were in last place as late as the first week of February, they made it to game 81 before being eliminated. Somehow, they fought their way back to contention. A mix of Andrei Vasilevskiy emerging as a legitimate number one, Nikita Kucherov establishing himself as one of the best goalscorers in the league and valiant efforts from half of the Syracuse Crunch roster allowed them to pull off the near impossible.
The call-ups from Syracuse have acquitted themselves quite well, none more so than Yanni Gourde. After starting his Tampa career slowly, with one goal in 12 games, the free agent signing has really picked up his scoring down the stretch scoring five goals in his last seven games including two in a must-win game against Montreal.
A win tonight would also give the Lightning a true winning record for the fourth year in a row. It’s small consolation for missing the playoffs, but it’s better than nothing. Another dim silver lining is that they will finally get a summer off. Between two deep playoff runs and sending a load of players to the World Hockey Classic, they have played a lot of hockey. A little rest will only help them next year when they should be back among the Eastern Conference’s best teams.
In lieu of a match-up statistical chart, because why bother, here is a list of players who might be playing their final game in a Lightning uniform.
Ryan Callahan - Will his hip force him to retire, or will it be healed by next season?
Tyler Johnson - Possible number one center of Las Vegas Golden Knights
Vlad Namestnikov - Possible number two center of Las Vegas Golden Knights
Gregg McKegg - If he’s back next year something has gone awry
Cory Conacher - How do you say “Welcome back” in Swiss?
Yanni Gourde - Jonathan Marchessault ver 2.0
Jason Garrison - Possible number two defenseman of Las Vegas Golden Knights
Jake Dotchin - See above
Peter Budaj - Thank you for the four wins
Tampa Bay Lightning
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Adam Erne - Vladislav Namestnikov - Jonathan Drouin
Alex Killorn - Yanni Gourde - Cory Conacher
Gabriel Dumont - Greg McKegg - Michael Bournival
Anton Stralman - Luke Witkowski
Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin
Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr (why God why?)
Evander Kane - Ryan O'Reilly - Tyler Ennis
Brian Gionta - Jack Eichel - Sam Reinhart
Marcus Foligno - Evan Rodrigues - Alexander Nylander
C.J. Smith - Zemgus Girgensons - Matt Moulson
Jake McCabe - Rasmus Ristolainen
Dmitry Kulikov - Zach Bogosian
Josh Gorges - Cody Franson
Lines subject to change based on the whims of the General Managers and we likely won’t bother to update them today unless, by a miracle, Steven Stamkos returns.