Time: 7:00 pm ET
Location: Amalie Arena
Opponent SBNation Site: Defending Big D
With three games left in the regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s chance to take first place in the Central Division has almost disappeared. The Carolina Hurricanes currently sitting five points ahead of them and given their pace in recent games – the team has just posted a 13-game point streak – it’s would be very naive to expect the Canes to lose both remaining games in the regular season. While the first round series against the Florida Panthers is basically inevitable, the Lightning could still impact the final standings as their win over the Dallas Stars will practically eliminate them from playoffs.
About seven months ago both teams played in the Stanley Cup Final. The Stars put an enormous effort into that playoff run, which eventually cost them the current season. The injuries from that run have accompanied them the whole season – Tyler Seguin has just returned after recovering from hip surgery, which he underwent in last November, Alex Radulov played in just eleven games and Ben Bishop, who’s been struggling with injuries in recent seasons, didn’t play at all. Despite that, the Stars were very close to making playoffs and if not for the Nashville Predators, whose results rapidly improved in the second half of the regular season, Dallas would have already clinched their playoff berth at this point.
The Stars’ struggles against the Bolts from the last year’s Stanley Cup Final have carried over to this regular season as Tampa Bay has been the toughest opponent for Dallas this year. In seven previous games Dallas posted a 1-5-1 record against the Lightning and was mightily outscored 10-25, including three games where they couldn’t score a goal.
The previous game against the Stars was probably one of the better Lightning’s games in recent weeks. The Bolts took most of their chances and prevented their opponents from completing comeback in the third period, when Dallas cut their lead to one goal. The Lightning still need to find consistency, but seeing such a strong offensive performance a couple of weeks before start of the postseason is a positive sign.
Another positive sign for the Lightning is presence of Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos during practices this week. On Tuesday both players appeared at morning skate with the team, taking rushes on the fifth line with Mitchell Stephens and even joined a top power play unit at the end of practice.
Several Lightning players have ended their scoreless drought in latest game, including rookie Ross Colton, who went scoreless in previous nine games. Tyler Johnson, who has been a Lightning’s scrapegoat during the latest slump, has also ended his own series of games without goal, scoring his first in 21 games.
Tonight’s game will be the final home game of this regular season for the Lightning. Tomorrow the Lightning are heading to Sunrise, to face the Panthers for the two final regular season games.
Tampa Bay Lightning Lines
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Alex Barre-Boulet
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Tyler Johnson
Barclay Goodrow - Yanni Gourde - Blake Coleman
Patrick Maroon - Ross Colton - Mathieu Joseph
Victor Hedman - Erik Cernak
Ryan McDonagh - David Savard
Mikhail Sergachev - Jan Rutta
Updated - Looks like McElhinney is in net with Rutta drawing back into the line-up after missing 18 games with a lower-body injury.
Dallas Stars Lines
Jason Robertson - Roope Hintz - Joe Pavelski
Joel Kiviranta - Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin
Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Tanner Kero - Jason Dickinson - Denis Gurianov
Esa Lindell - John Klinberg
Jamie Oleksiak - Miro Heiskanen
Joel Hanley - Andrej Sekera