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Lightning Round: Lightning have a chance to finish the season strong

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After the series with Carolina, their schedule isn’t too bad

NHL: APR 17 Panthers at Lightning Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning enter tonight’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes in third place, two points behind the ‘Canes in the Central Division. It’s the first of a back-to-back series against Carolina and one of just twelve games left on their regular season schedule overall. It’s time for them to buckle down and start gearing up for the postseason.

The good news is that their remaining schedule, outside of the next two games, isn’t too taxing. They only have one more back-to-back after this one with Carolina and they have three two-day rest periods sprinkled throughout the rest of the season. Compared to some teams (looking at you Vancouver) that’s a relative cakewalk to the end of the season.

Their competition isn’t too rigorous either. They have two games against Carolina and finish the season with two games against the Florida Panthers. Their remaining opponents are:

Columbus (two games): 7th place in the Central, 15-22-9 overall, Lightning are 3-3 against them.

Chicago (one game): 5th in the Central, 21-19-5, Lightning are 6-0-1 against them.

Dallas (three games): 6th in the Central, 17-14-12, Lightning are 4-1 against them.

Detroit (two games): 8th in the Central, 16-24-6, Lightning are 4-2 against them.

Four teams that the Lightning are a combined 17-6-1 against (they are 6-5-1 against Carolina and Florida) and the one team that has battled them to .500 sold off several key pieces at the deadline. Chicago and Dallas are still in the fight for the playoffs as of right now, but that could change by the time the Lightning meet them. Technically, Detroit and Columbus aren’t eliminated from the playoffs just yet, and the fact that Nashville is holding down the fourth spot with only 49 points will keep those teams in purgatory a little longer. Still, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Bolts can win six or seven of these games even if they’re not playing that well.

It would do them well to pick up as many points as possible against those teams because it’s going to be a scrap down to the wire among the three division leaders. With regular season points determining seeding after the first two rounds of the playoffs, it behooves the Lightning to not leave anything on the table the rest of the way.

Of the three leaders, Florida should have the slightly easier time of it. Not only do they have a four-day break before their last two games against the Lightning, they have pretty much dominated their remaining competition. Not counting their head-to-head matches with the division leaders,

Florida has:

Columbus (two games): Florida is 5-0 against them

Nashville (two games): Florida is 4-1 against them

Chicago (two games): Florida is 4-2 against them

Dallas (one game): Florida is 5-2 against them

Carolina has done well against Dallas and Nashville, but struggled slightly against Detroit and Chicago. They also have a total of three back-to-backs (including the one against Tampa Bay) and are playing every other night with no two-day breaks.

Carolina has:

Dallas (two games): Carolina is 5-1 against them

Detroit (one game): Carolina is 3-3 against them

Chicago (three games): Carolina is 3-2 against them

Nashville (two games): 6-0 against them

What does all of that mean? Well, the race for first place in the Central is likely to go down to the final weekend. The Lightning and Panthers could actually battle for the division crown and home-ice advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

While it would have been nice if the Lightning had run away and clinched the division easily, they aren’t in a terrible spot. Their regular season was basically about them staying healthy (not great on that front) and putting themselves in a good position for the playoffs (successful!). They might be scuffling along a bit right now, but overall it’s been another solid season.

Lightning Links

Bolts plan on playing Savard with McDonagh

This would not be a fun pairing to go against. Honestly, their skills mesh a little more than having Savard pair up with Victor Hedman. Going from playing in Columbus to pairing with Hedman is like going from a tractor trailer to a Ferrari.

Erik Erlendssen’s thoughts on Saturday’s game (subscription required and recommended)

Basically, process was good despite the result and Tyler Johnson has to be better on the Panther’s third goal.

Lightning face a tight race in the Central

Kind of like we said above, things are going to go down to the wire, but Mr. Encina also includes the format of the playoffs, something I’ve been wondering about but haven’t looked up yet:

With the divisions realigned for this season because of coronavirus issues, the playoff format was changed, too. The top four teams in each of the four divisions make the playoffs. The first two rounds are intradivision. In the first round, the first-place team meets the fourth, and the second meets the third. The winners of those series meet in the second round.

The winners of each division playoff advance to league semifinals, where teams will be reseeded based on their regular-season points. The semifinal winners make the Stanley Cup final.

Hockey Highlights

Canucks kick off odyssey with an overtime win

Because, why not? Toronto blew a two-goal lead. Bo Hovart won it in overtime and Braden Holtby made this save:

The always elusive “poke-check-pinwheel-leg-save”.

Tom Wilson doing Tom Wilson things...kind of

I think Tom Wilson is a careless hockey player. He likes hitting people and often does it without concern for his opponent’s health. That being said, I’m not that upset with this hit simply because it could have been a lot worse. The problem is, when you’ve spent your career making illegal, dirty hits, you lose the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think he gets a call from the league, but it’s not going to make him more likable.

Joel Johnson named interim head coach of Women’s National Team

The World Championship tournament is two weeks away, so it’s probably a good idea to have a head coach after Bob Corkum stepped down from the role. Johnson served as an assistant coach to Corkum and also coached six of the players on the team during his tenure as head hockey coach at the University of Minnesota.