Home finale; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Washington Capitals preview

WHERE: Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
WHEN: 7 PM EDT | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: NBC Sports Net (cable), 970 WFLA (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Japers' Rink, Rock the Red, Kings of Leonsis

It's fitting that, in a disappointing season, the Tampa Bay Lightning were not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention until the second-to-last home game of the season. Fans have been charged (pardon the pun) with being the thunder at home dates at Times Palace this season... And despite the team's inconsistency this year, they (the fans) have embraced that challenge. In 40 home dates, the Lightning has had an average attendance of 18,449 per-games. That's a clear improvement over last season's attendance of 17,268 (which wasn't too shabby either).

The final home game of the season will be played against the team that mathematically eliminated them from the playoffs. By way of their shootout win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, the Washington Capitals reduced the Bolts playoff chances to absolute zero. Thank you for playing. Do we have any parting gifts for our contestants?

Yet this game does have playoff implications. It's significance enough that national sports networks in NBC Sports Net, TSN 2 and RDS will be picking up the broadcast. The Caps are all of three points behind the Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division crown, and a scant two points in front of the Buffalo Sabres for the final playoff spot in the East. Beating Tampa Bay puts Washington controls it's own destiny for the division title- they play Florida head-to-head later in the week.

A loss wouldn't be the end of all things for the Caps, but it'd be more-of-the-same from the Eastern Conference and the Southeast Division: A lack of killer instinct and a lack of urgency when it matters the most.

Tomas Vokoun is out of action for the Caps and possibly done for the season with a groin injury. This puts their playoff hopes in the hands of Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby. That's not exactly a bad tandem. Young? Yes. But a capable tandem that Caps management didn't quite have faith in. Vokoun was supposed to be the final piece in net when he was signed for next-to-nothing in the summer of 2011. While Vokoun had been formidable in net (2.51 GAA, .917 save percentage), he wasn't propelling the Capitals to new heights.

With J.T. Brown on the roster and the return of both Vincent Lecavalier and Nate Thompson to the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup, Trevor Smith was re-assigned to the Norfolk Admirals. The Ads have three games this week - versus Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Tuesday and a pair of games against the Binghamton Senators at week's end (Friday / Saturday). 22 is a fluke. 23? Now, that's a streak!

Speaking of big numbers and big accomplishments, Steven Stamkos' 56th goal of the season was the game winner on Saturday night. That was huge. What is bigger is his distinct chance of getting to the 60 goal plateau. Erik Erlendsson at the Tribune elaborates on Spicoli's chances.

This evening being the last home game of the season, the Bolts will walk the Red Carpet at Times Palace this afternoon in the West Plaza. Fans who want to be there for it need to arrive early (3:30 PM). There will be other fan appreciation events ongoing throughout the evening at the arena. Check out our post on Facebook for more information.

Other Previews

Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview

Tampa Bay Times

Full game coverage on SB Nation


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