Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: Amalie Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: SunS, FSCR
Opponent SBNation Site: PNC Arena
The Tampa Bay Lightning travel to Raleigh to face the Carolina Hurricanes with a chance to clinch the Atlantic Division title. The Lightning will need to come up with one more strong performance following a win last night in Tampa over the Buffalo Sabres. A win of in regulation or overtime would secure the Lightning their first Atlantic Division crown since the division realignment for the 2013-14 season. They would also clinch if Boston loses in regulation or if both teams lose in overtime or a shootout.
Winning the division would give the Lightning the chance to play the second wild card team instead of the third place team in the Atlantic. That would mean facing the fifth place team in the Metro instead of the Toronto Maple Leafs. To get an idea on who that might be we can look at the First Round Matchup chart from the vital hockeyviz.com.
The Maple Leafs are locked into third in the Atlantic. If the Lightning surrender the division lead to the Bruins, Tampa would face the Leafs in the first round of the playoffs. If they hold on to the lead, they would most likely face either the Philadelphia Flyers or the New Jersey Devils. The Flyers currently have 96 points. The Devils are tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets at 97 points. All three teams have one game left.
Of the four likely first round opponents, the Flyers and Devils seem to be most preferable. The Leafs are a better team than those two and Columbus is one of the hottest teams in the league over the final quarter of the season. The Jackets feature probably the best defensive pairing in the league in Seth Jones and Zach Werenski as well as one of the best forwards in the league in Artemi Panarin. Winning the division only to face Columbus would be the cruelest outcome of all the possible scenarios.
Finding out which of these scenarios will ultimately come true starts with the Lightning game in Carolina tonight. The Hurricanes have been out of playoff contention for a while. But even without much to gain by winning, they are likely to give a good effort in their final home game of the season. No team wants to head into the summer with a loss on home ice as their final memory of the season.
The Lightning will again be without Steven Stamkos, who is dealing with a lower body injury. Brayden Point has stepped up into the top line center position and performed admirably in his absence. Stamkos’ injury opens a spot in the lineup for Cory Conacher who has also been good aside from taking a couple penalties against the Sabres.
The big question will be who the starter in net will be for Tampa. With the game still having meaning, starting Andrei Vasilevskiy would be the obvious move. But he just played last night and not only played but gave up five goals. The other option is backup Louis Domingue who has been decent but is very much a backup. Neither option is particularly appealing given the stakes of the game. Ultimately, the result may come down to whether the Lightning offense can outscore whatever happens in their own zone.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
J.T. Miller - Tyler Johnson - Cory Conacher
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Yanni Gourde
Chris Kunitz - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan
Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev
Slater Koekkoek - Andrej Sustr
Phil Di Giuseppe - Jordan Staal - Justin Williams
Sebastian Aho - Elias Lindholm - Teuvo Teravainen
Jeff Skinner - Derek Ryan - Lee Stempniak
Joakim Nordstrom - Nicolas Roy - Valentin Zykov
Jaccob Slavin - Klas Dahlbeck
Noah Hanifin - Trevor Van Riemsdyk
Haydn Fleury - Roland McKeown