With just 13 games to go in the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning are well into the stretch run. Their playoff spot is mostly secure and they will finish 2nd in the Atlantic Division unless something strange happens. While the Toronto Maple Leafs have struggled lately, the two blue teams still have a greater than 50% chance of meeting in the first round according to HockeyViz.
With so few games remaining, the schedule can be broken down into three distinct parts:
This week represents the first of three sections. The Bolts face four Eastern Conference teams beginning with the Leafs in Toronto on Tuesday. They then return home on Thursday to face the suddenly dominant Philadelphia Flyers before another weekend back to back that will give them a chance to get redemption against the Detroit Red Wings before finishing up Sunday against the New Jersey Devils.
After the homestand, the Lightning head west for the second time this season. This time for the Western Canada trip. The scheduling is a little odd here as the Lightning get two days off to make the trip out and then three full days off to make the trip back. But while on the trip, they have a back to back in Alberta against the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. Over the full course of the trip, they’ll play just three games in nine days. And while heading out west is never easy, that many off days is almost like a mini break before the playoffs start.
When the Lightning return home on March 25th, they’ll have six games over the final eleven days to close the season. In the first week, the Bolts will face the Leafs, Blue Jackets and Rangers all at home. In the final week, the homestand continues against the Senators before the team closes the season on the road against the Blue Jackets and the Red Wings.
Lightning Org News
The Lightning lost to the Red Wings in the shootout 5-4 last night. If you missed the game, you can catch up with the quickcap and we’ll have more thoughts on the weekend’s games later this morning.
The Tampa Bay Lightning lost 5-4 in the shootout to the Detroit Red Wings in a result that looks bad devoid of context but in context, was an obvious trap game. The Bolts were coming of an extremely emotional and physical win in Boston the night before. They were playing without Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos. Ryan McDonagh returned to the lineup for the first time in weeks. The third pair was Luke Schenn on his off side with Zach Bogosian. This game screamed “unexpected” loss as we wrote in the preview and did not disappoint.
More important than the game yesterday were the injury updates. First, Ryan McDonagh returned to the lineup, which was a huge addition. According to Joe Smith of The Athletic, the team says Hedman is day to day and could return as soon as the Toronto game on Tuesday. With regard to Jan Rutta, the team is hoping he can return for the Western Canada trip mentioned above. Getting a fully healthy defensive group before the playoffs so that Braydon Coburn, Zach Bogosian, and Luke Schenn can all be healthy scratches is the most important thing for the Lightning right now.
Other Hockey News
Not many of the games yesterday held scoreboard watching interest for Lightning fans. The Blues beat Chicago 1-0 to stay tied for the second best record in the NHL.
In the Metro Division, the Blue Jackets won to go two points up on the Islanders and Hurricanes, who also won, for the first wild card spot. The problem for the Jackets is that they’ve played three more games than their competitors for the wild card meaning that two point lead is tenuous at best. As of now, it looks like both wild card races will come down to the final games of the season, which should give us some fun drama heading into the playoffs.