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The Tampa Bay Lightning are in a playoff spot for the first time in a long while

Finally.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

After a weird first half of the season for the Tampa Bay Lightning that involved some poor play, some bad luck, and some weird scheduling, the team that had the best regular season in recent memory is finally back in a playoff spot. The Bolts win over the Buffalo Sabres last night combined with the Panthers loss to the Blue Jackets jumped the Lightning into third place in the Atlantic Division.

If the season ended today, which it obviously doesn’t, Tampa would be facing a first round matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs. And in fact, that outcome is becoming increasingly likely. With the Bruins having such a big lead in the division and the Atlantic probably only able to get three teams in the playoffs given how good the Metro is, a first round series between the two blue and white teams could take on an air of inevitability over the second half of the season.

The Lightning still have several games in hand on most of their competition including three each on the Leafs and Bruins. But they only have one on the Panthers who are a single point behind in fourth place and two on the Canadiens who are four points behind. The Bolts and Habs play again on Thursday giving Tampa the opportunity to put more space between themselves and one of their competitors for third place in the division. Following that, they finish with a back to back against the Senators and Hurricanes that will burn one of their games in hand on most of the other teams in the division.

With three back to backs in the next two weeks, the Lightning will lose most of their schedule advantage and we should have a better idea on where they sit in the playoff picture. But for now, for the first time in a long while, they’re officially in third place in the Atlantic and back in control of their own future.

Other Lightning org news

As we mentioned, the Lightning defeated the Sabres 6-4 last night. The game was a wild one with the Bolts overcoming a 4-1 deficit in the second period to come back and steal two points in the road. Check out the quickcap from Igor and we’ll have more in depth thoughts on the game later today.

The Crunch also fell behind early but couldn’t complete the comeback losing 5-3. Head coach Ben Groulx shook up the roster healthy scratching Alex Barre-Boulet and Nolan Valleau as Justin speculated might happen in his Crunch Corner column yesterday. Unfortunately, the changes didn’t spark the team to victory. We’ll see if Barre-Boulet in particular returns to the lineup motivated to push his team to victory.

Other hockey news

In addition to losing yesterday, the Sabres made news when another player requested a trade. This time, forward Evan Rodrigues apparently asked to be moved. This follows Zach Bogosian making the same request earlier in December. In addition, Elliotte Friedman reported in 31 Thoughts that other players on the Sabres blue line might be available in a trade. The Sabres appear to be in disarray and a loss like last night won’t help.

In other Atlantic Division action yesterday, the Leafs won, the Bruins lost in a shootout, the Canadiens lost, and the Red Wings managed to get their first shutout of the season against the Sharks. Wow, the Sharks are bad.