Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: Nationwide Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: BSSUN, BSOH, ESPN+
Opponent SBNation Site: The Cannon
After playing their last home game of the regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning are heading onto their last road trip of the regular season. The first game will be in Ohio with the Columbus Blue Jackets, against whom they played their last game on Tuesday.
The Lightning haven’t secured their first-round match-up against the Toronto Maple Leafs yet, but they look like their most potential opponent at this moment. They can do it tonight simply by defeating the Blue Jackets, but the Boston Bruins can still get ahead of them if they win both remaining games and the Lightning earn just one point or less over their last two games.
The Bolts, however, don’t look like anyone could stop them right now. Over the last four games, the Lightning outscored their opponents 28-8 and their power play is extremely dangerous right now, as they scored nine of their goals during that span with a man advantage. The 5v5 performance though haven’t been that impressive: the Bolts were outplayed and outchanced in both of their previous games and even the game against the Florida Panthers, which they’d won 8-4, they finished with 43.09 xGF%. The Bolts have been carried on by the performance of their top line and power play, which wouldn’t necessary work in the playoffs against the team like the Leafs, who’s particularly strong at both 5v5 and penalty kill. Speaking of the penalty kill, the Bolts have been underperforming while shorthanded lately: they allowed five goals last five games on the penalty kill.
While it seems like Jon Cooper has already decided how the top line will look like heading into the playoffs, the middle six have been shuffled over and over again. After his short absence last week, Brayden Point’s linemates have been moving around: he played with Alex Killorn and Brandon Hagel against Florida and was moved back to Nick Paul and Ross Colton in the last game against Columbus. Both options haven’t really worked out as Point’s lines were negative in possession and shot quality stats in those games.
Erik Cernak didn’t finish the last game after taking a puck to his face. According to Jon Cooper he should be okay, calling this week a “tough week“ for him. Jan Rutta also missed the game against Columbus as a precaution. Both defenseman are day-to-day and could be available for tonight’s game, but wouldn’t be a big surprise if one of them will be held out of this game as a precaution again. The Lightning also closing the regular season with back-to-back games, meaning that Brian Elliott will likely start against the Blue Jackets tonight and Andrei Vasilevskiy will take on the relatively stronger New York Islanders on Friday.
With a win on Tuesday, the Lightning already won the season series against the Blue Jackets: the Bolts also defeated them 7-2 in their first meeting of the season back in January.
Tampa Bay Lightning Potential Lines
Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Brandon Hagel
Brayden Point - Nick Paul - Ross Colton
Patrick Maroon - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Corey Perry
Victor Hedman - Cal Foote
Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev - Zach Bogosian
Columbus Blue Jackets Potential Lines
Gustav Nyquist - Jack Roslovic - Jakub Voracek
Yegor Chinakov - Cole Sillinger - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Eric Robinson - Justin Danforth - Emil Bemstrom
Kent Johnson - Brendan Gaunce - Carson Meyer
Zach Werenski - Andrew Peeke
Vladislav Gavrikov - Nick Blankenburg
Dean Kukan - Jake Bean