Time: 9:30 pm Eastern Time
Location: American Airlines Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: ESPN - National broadcast = no blackouts
Opponent SBNation Site: Defending Big D
The Lightning take a quick break from their month of home cooking for a quick road trip to Dallas to take on their foes from the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. Tampa Bay’s wish to establish a winning streak will be tested by a Stars team that is fighting for every point as they cling to the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.
With 86 points and ten games remaining It’s unlikely that they can catch the St. Louis Blues (94 points) for the third spot in the Central Division so their playoff hopes rest on outpointing either Nashville (87 points) or Vegas (84 points) for one of the two wild card spots. If they had their choice it would likely be the first spot so that they can avoid the Colorado Avalanche in the first round.
Dallas is 6-3-1 over their last ten games, which on the surface looks pretty good, but does also include losses to the New Jersey Devils and Seattle Kraken. Should they miss out on the postseason those are four points they would most likely want to have on the other side of the ledger.
Since February 1st their 18 wins is second most in the Central trailing just Colorado’s 20. They’ve managed an 18-10-2 record despite conceding more goals than they’ve scored (89-86) and ending up on the wrong side of shot attempts (48.51%). There ability to find more quality chances than there opponents have helped them over the stretch (54.76% HDCF and 51.93% xGF).
A couple of young guns have been leading the way with Jake Oettinger in goal and Jason Robertson scoring at the other end. Due to injuries to, well everyone, Oettinger has been thrust into the number one role in net and has responded nicely. He’s posted a 2.53 GAA with 1,17 goals saved above expected and 7.26 goals saved above average.
When we say he’s been the number one goaltender, it’s not even close. In 14 games in March, Oettinger was the goalie of record in 12 of them. Braden Hotby had one start and Scott Wedgewood the other. Wedgewood already has started two games in April, so Oettinger should be relatively well-rested for tonight’s match-up.
Meanwhile their offense is paced by 22-year-old Jason Robertson. He ended a bit of a rough stretch where he had just one goal in nine games with a two-goal outburst against Chicago in their most recent match. That gave him a team-leading 34 goals on the season. After a 17-goal rookie campaign in 2020-21, he’s put together a 67-point season while playing really, really well in just about all aspects of the game.
He’s helped out by the usual suspects such as the ageless Joe Pavelski (72 points - 27 goals, 45 assists), Roope Hintz (31 goals), Jamie Benn (45 points - 18 goals, 27 assists) and John Klingberg (37 assists).
As for the Lightning, wasn’t that win against the Sabres really nice? Early goals, a shutout, not much stress in the third period - it’s been awhile since they’ve had a game like that. Yes, it was against the Sabres, but a game like that can really boost a team’s confidence. What was nice about the win is that they didn’t really fall into too many bad habits despite the multi-goal lead in the third period.
Ryan McDonagh’s return solidified the defense. He played 19:09 including 1:45 shorthanded and picked up an assist. His return also allowed other players to shift back to their more comfortable roles. Mikhail Sergachev slid down to the third pairing while Zach Bogosian went back to his more natural, right-side of the ice. Having the full compliment of his top four defenders has to be a comfort to Coach Cooper as he knows that roughly 66-70% of the time he will have Victor Hedman or Ryan McDonagh on the ice.
It seems that the current combination of lines (reuniting Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov while putting Steven Stamkos with Ross Colton and Nick Paul) is paying dividends. Stamkos adds a pretty lethal scoring threat to the third line, giving Coach Cooper another option to roll out there when he needs to play match-ups.
The test for the Lightning will be carrying over the positives from the Buffalo game to tonight and onward. The sun is setting on the regular season and it’s time for the Lightning players to show their coaching staff that they are trending in the right direction for the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Brandon Hagel - Anthony Cirelli - Alex Killorn
Nick Paul - Steven Stamkos - Ross Colton
Pat Maroon - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Corey Perry
Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev -Zach Bogosian
Dallas Stars Projected Lines
Jason Robertson - Roope Hintz - Joe Pavelski
Vladislav Namestnikov - Tyler Seguin - Luke Glendening
Michael Raffl - Jamie Benn - Denis Gurianov
Jacob Peterson - Radek Faska - Alexander Radulov
Ryan Suter - Miro Heiskanen
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Thomas Harley - Jani Hakanpaa