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Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers: Folks, we made it to the end of the season

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The goal in this game - don’t get hurt (although home-ice advantage would be nice as well).

Tampa Bay Lightning v Florida Panthers Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers: GAME 56 (the last one!)

Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time (that’s 5:00 pm Mountain!)

Location: BB&T Center (Hopefully we’re not back here until Game Three!)

Broadcast/Streaming: BSFL, NHL.TV free game (that’s right, Freeeeeee)

Opponent SBNation Site: Litter Box Cats (might as well bookmark it)

We made it. With tonight’s game, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2020-21 regular season draws to a close. There have been ups and downs, long breaks and back-to-backs, highlight goals and ten-bell saves, and odd-man rushes against (so many!). While they might not have captured the division title, they are going back to the playoffs and will have a chance to defend their 2020 Stanley Cup Title. That’s all we can really ask for out of a regular season, right? The chance to defend.

There is the small matter of home-ice for the first round of the playoffs at stake tonight. With a regulation win, the Lightning would move into a tie with the Panthers with 77 points. Since they would have more regulation wins, Tampa Bay would take the first tie-breaker and the playoffs would start in front of 7,000 enthusiastic fans at Amalie Arena.

A win would also vault them up the overall standings, tying them (for the moment) with Pittsburgh with the fourth most points in the league. That could be important in Round Three when, supposedly, the survivors of the first two rounds will be reseeded based on their regular season records. Should there be some upsets in the other divisions, who knows, maybe the Lightning squeak out another series with a home-ice advantage.

That, however, is a few weeks down the road. For now, the Lightning have to make it through this game relatively unscathed, something they haven’t been able to do recently. The injured list is pretty long at this point with Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Barclay Goodrow, and Jan Rutta questionable with injuries. Add Pat Maroon’s one-game suspension to the list and that’s a pretty big portion of the line-up that will be watching from a socially distanced press box.

We’ll have a better idea of what the lines will look like later in the day, but expect Alex Barré-Boulet to draw back into the line-up and skate with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat. Mitchell Stephens will most likely center the fourth line with Ross Colton bumping over to a wing position. Could this be an ideal day for Daniel Walcott to slide into the line-up? He could be an effective presence on the wing for that line and bring a lot of energy to a team that may be dragging a bit after a long season.

Expect the defense to look a lot like it did on Saturday with understudies Freddie Claesson and Ben Thomas playing the roles of Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh. While not ideal, neither would having Heddy or McD come back for this game and aggravate whatever malady is troubling them.

The other lingering question to this game is if the bad blood from Saturday will spill over into tonight’s action. Most likely it won’t. There will be the usual scrums after whistles and maybe Luke Schenn drops the gloves one more times, but with both teams looking forward to the postseason, the last thing a player wants to do is get suspended for a playoff game or two because of a senseless penalty in the last game of the season.

Florida is dealing with their own injuries as old friend Carter Verhaeghe has missed a few games with an upper-body injury as has Patric Hornqvist. Both might be back in the line-up tonight, or at least that seemed to be the plan before the Melee in Miami took place on Saturday. It wouldn’t be surprising if Florida held them out as a precaution. So, there is a good chance that the line-ups on both sides that take the ice have no resemblance to the ones that start in Game One (whenever that may be).

Tampa Bay Lightning Lines

(based on the previous game and my hopes that Walcott gets in a game)

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Alex Barre-Boulet

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Tyler Johnson

Mathieu Joseph - Yanni Gourde - Blake Coleman

Daniel Walcott (???)- Mitchell Stephens- Ross Colton

Defense

Mikhail Sergachev - Erik Cernak

Freddie Claesson - David Savard

Luke Schenn - Ben Thomas

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Curtis McElhinney

Florida Panthers Lines

Forwards

Mason Marchment - Aleksander Barkov - Anthony DuClair

Jonathan Huberdeau - Sam Bennett - Owen Tippett

Frank Vatrano - Alex Wennberg - Aleksi Heponiemi

Ryan Lomberg- Noel Acciari - Nikita Gusev

Defense

Gustav Forsling - MacKenzie Weegar

Keith Yandle - Radko Gudas

Markus Nutivaara - Brandon Montour

Goalies

Sergei Bobrovsky

Chris Driedger

Lines based on Dailyfaceoff.com, will update if we hear anything throughout the day