Minnesota Wild at Tampa Bay Lightning Preview: The race tightens
The playoff push continues as the West-leading Wild come to town.
Minnesota Wild (42-16-6 90 pts) at Tampa Bay Lightning (30-26-9 69 pts) GAME 66
Time: 7:30pm EST
Location: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
Broadcast/Streaming: SUN, FS-N, FS-WI
Opponent SB Nation Site: Hockey Wilderness
Previous Game Musings
An NHL team still employs Tanner Glass?
The Lightning really needed two points against the New York Rangers Monday night, it would have helped close the gap in the playoff race. Instead, the Lightning are currently four points out of the final wild-card spot and seven points out of the final divisional spot. As I stated in an earlier preview, the Lightning must win over 60% of their remaining games, and still need the teams in front of them to lose to really grab a foothold in the playoff race. So far, the Lightning have alternated wins and losses over the last four games while the teams in front of them have continued to win
Of course, what better way to help this playoff push than by playing the best team in the Western Conference! The Minnesota Wild are in town tonight and with that comes another chance for the Lightning to gain points (preferably two) in the standings. The Wild have continued to win because that is what a Bruce Boudreau-coached team does...in the regular season.
The Wild boast the 4th best offense and defense in the league, scoring 213 goals and allowing 151. In addition, they also have the 6th best power-play at 22%, and the 7th best penalty kill at 84.8%. This team just doesn’t do anything poorly -- except for maybe their possession game, which is still in the bottom half of the league. The Wild have a Corsi For % of 48.6% (22nd), but that hasn’t slowed them down one bit.
The last time the Lightning played the Wild I noted that the Wild’s shooting percentage was over 11%, and how radically different it was compared to how their shooting percentages were over the last few seasons. Well, the Wild are still shooting at a high percentage at 10.84% (2nd) and just to give more pain to their opponents, they also have the 2nd best save percentage at .942. Call it the “Boudreau Effect,” but this Wild team is a juggernaut this season.
Conversely, the Lightning are mediocre and still struggle on the penalty kill. The Bolts have the 15th best offense with 179 goals, and the 16th best defense with 181 goals allowed. Additionally, they have the 4th best power-play at 22.1%, and are 22nd on the penalty kill at 80%. Possession-wise, the Lightning are still a top ten team with a Corsi For % of 51.23% (7th), but possession doesn’t equate to wins when a team allows more goals than they score.
Tampa Bay played the Wild close the last time they squared off before losing in the shootout. However, I vividly remember how passive the Lightning became during the last ten minutes of regulation, and I also remember how utterly terrible they played during the overtime period. That mentality and style of play cannot be utilized here, and one point is not going to help the Lightning in the playoff race. Tampa Bay must dig deep, especially with all the veteran leadership they relied on being gone, and find a way to get two points against Minnesota.
The schedule is not going to give them a break (they play the Panthers, Rangers, Senators, Maple Leafs, and Capitals within the next week), and faltering even the slightest will doom the Lightning’s playoff chances.
The Lightning have had their backs against the wall before and have always managed to fight back, and it’s still possible they can pull off a playoff berth. But they must play better to position themselves better. The next week and a half will really determine if the Lightning are either going to battle till game 82, or be an afterthought before game 75.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Brayden Point - Jonathan Drouin
Adam Erne - Vladislav Namestnikov - Yanni Gourde
Gabriel Dumont - Cedric Paquette - J.T. Brown
Jason Garrison - Anton Stralman
Zach Parise - Eric Staal - Chris Stewart
Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Mikael Granlund
Nino Niederreiter - Martin Hanzal - Charlie Coyle
Ryan White - Erik Haula - Jason Pominville
Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin - Matthew Dumba
Marco Scandella - Nate Prosser