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Lightning Round: Checking out the April schedule

Mar 30, 2024; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning mascot, ThunderBug, dresses up as a bunny for Easter tomorrow against the New York Islanders during the third period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s here, folks. The last month of the regular season is upon us. The Tampa Bay Lightning kick off their final nine games of the season tonight against the Detroit Red Wings. They’ll then play eight more times over the following 16 days, finishing things off with a home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 17th. After that, hopefully playoff things.

On paper, it’s not a bad schedule for a team looking to clinch a playoff spot. They finish things off with four of their final five games at home and as of right now, only two opponents are currently in a playoff position. The two games that loom large are both against the Leafs. The Bolts head up to The Big Smoke this Wednesday and then, as mentioned, have the re-match to end the season. There is a better than average chance that those two games could determine who gets the third spot in the Atlantic Division.

Toronto currently is hanging onto the spot, but only have a four-point lead on Tampa Bay. The Leafs have more wins (42-41) but the Lightning lead in regulation-only wins (38-37). It could come down to that tiebreaker if both teams finish out strong.

In between the match-ups the Bolts also have Montreal and Pittsburgh on their three-game road trip. Montreal has been eliminated and is playing for next season, but I’m sure Marty St. Louis wouldn’t mind hurting his former team’s chances to make it to the playoffs. The Penguins are technically still alive in the playoff race, but there are a lot, I mean a lot, of teams that they have to jump over to make it. Sid is probably not going to make it.

After the road trip, the Lightning are back home for Columbus and Ottawa, two teams that are out of it. Then the Bolts are in D.C. for their final regular season road game against a Capitals team that has clawed their way up to the third spot in the Metro. Both teams should be jockeying for playoff position at that point, so it should be a spirited effort.

Then it’s back home for a game against Buffalo, a team that made a kick for the playoffs, but stalled out last week. Finally, the Lightning close out the regular season with the final contest against the Maple Leafs. It’s fun to think that playoff match-ups could come down to that last day.

The Lightning don’t have to win every game to make the playoffs, heck they don’t even have to win half of them, but that doesn’t mean they should take their hand off of the throttle. We’ve seen them round into form over the last few weeks and carrying that over to this month will give them an excellent boost heading into the playoffs. If they keep up the compete levels over the next two weeks, it’s doubtful that any team in the Eastern Conference will be eager to meet them in the first round.

Other Hockey News

Young Lightning fan battling with cancer skates with his heroes [Tampa Bay Times]

Easton Beatch might be from Calgary, but he’s a Bolts fan through-and-through. On Saturday, he got to take the ice with Steven Stamkos and the rest of the team.

Bettman made right call to not expand NHL playoffs [New York Post]

Larry Brooks is a traditionalist, but he’s probably right. At this point the league doesn’t need a play-in game (although they would probably like the revenue another “playoff” game would generate). If and when the league does expand, maybe then it becomes more of a reality, but 16 out of 32 teams making the postseason is okay with me.

Predicting the next wave of NHL stars to hit the trading block [Bleacher Report]

It’s never to early to think about the next trade season and BR gives a sneak peek at some players who might be loading the packing truck. Jakob Chychrun would be an intriguing add for Julien BriseBois if he can find a way to swing it.

Boston College advances to the Frozen Four [BC Interruption]

It took a third period comeback and an overtime goal by Jack Malone, but the BC Eagles knocked out the defending champs in Quinnipiac to advance to the Frozen Four. Lightning prospect Eamon Powell had two more assists and is up to five for the tournament. With the win, the Lightning are guaranteed to have a prospect win the NCAA championship.

Michigan defeats rival to advance to Frozen Four [Wolverines Wire]

Dylan Duke had two goals and an assist to help the Michigan Wolverines defeat Michigan State [sorry CN…JG] and advance to the Frozen Four where they will take on Boston College. The loss for the Spartans ends Isaac Howard’s quest for a trifecta of trophies as he had already picked up a World Juniors gold and a Big10 championship. He’ll have to wait another year for the NCAA trophy.

Ryan Hartman to have hearing with DoPS [NHL.com]

Throwing your stick in the general direction of a referee isn’t the best way to express your feelings. Hartman and the league are going to have a talk about how he could have handled that better (and also how much money it’s going to cost him).

Kraken recall Shane Wright [Seattle Times]

It would be great to see Wright end the season with some solid play for the Kraken. It’s been an interesting career for the former top-rated prospect.

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