NHL Playoff Race: Big test for the Lightning and an opportunity to make up ground

With a win and an Islanders regulation loss, the Lightning have an opportunity to leapfrog the Islanders.

With the Lightning clawing their way back into the playoff picture since the trade deadline, and with the end of the season within sight, it’s time to start scoreboard watching.

For the Lightning to make it to the wild-card spot, or possibly even third in the Atlantic division, they’ll need some help along the way. Not only do they need to win their games, they need to win more games than three or four other teams that are also fighting for playoff spots. With this feature, we’ll review how other teams helped (or hurt) the Lightning, and who you should be cheering for. We’ll continue this either until the Lightning secure a playoff spot... or are eliminated.

For every game we review, we’ll determine a Best Case, OK Case, and Worst Case scenario for each game. For each review, we’ll determine which actually happened for the Lightning. With thanks to @ElSeldo of Pension Plan Puppets for the inspiration.

Last Night’s Game

None of the teams in front of the Lightning played yesterday. However, the Philadelphia Flyers did manage a win against the Pittsburgh Penguins to keep them marginally in the conversation. At six points behind the Boston Bruins, they have only a slim chance of making the playoffs.

Tonight’s Games that Matter

The Lightning have a big test tonight at home against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks have firmly taken hold of their division and have already clinched a playoff berth with 102 points. With a win and an Islanders regulation loss, the Lightning will have an opportunity to leapfrog the Islanders and pull within a point of the Boston Bruins for the second wild card spot.

Chicago Blackhawks @ Tampa Bay Lightning

Best Case: Lightning win in any fashion

OK Case: Lightning lose in overtime or shootout

Worst Case: Lightning lose in regulation

The Blackhawks are an interesting team this season. They’ve had to shed a number of talented forwards because of their challenging salary cap situation. They’ve managed to find some quality rookies and other young prospects that are still cheap to fill in the holes in the lineup around their top stars Jonathan Toews, Artemi Panarin, Duncan Keith, and Corey Crawford.

Except for the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals, the Lightning have fared pretty well against the Blackhawks during their dynasty era. Over their last ten games going back to the 2010-11 season, the Lightning are 8-0-2 against Chicago. The games have been tight though with four of those wins coming in overtime or the shootout.

With a win, the Lightning would move to within one point of the Boston Bruins for the second wild card with the same number of games played.

Nashville Predators @ New York Islanders

Best Case: Predators win in regulation

OK Case: Predators win in overtime or shootout

Kind of OK case: Islanders win in the shootout

Worst Case: Islanders win in regulation or overtime

With a win, the Islanders would pull even with the Bruins for points with the same number of games. However, due to the regulation and overtime wins (ROW) tie breaker, the Bruins would remain ahead of them in the standings for the second wild card spot.

If the Islanders were to win, the best case scenario is for them to win in the shootout. The Islanders sit with 33 ROW and the Lightning with 32 ROW. If the Islanders win in the shootout, and the Lightning win in regulation or overtime, the tiebreaker would even up and give the Lightning the advantage in the tie breakers. The Lightning went 3-0-0 against the Islanders, giving the Lightning the advantage if they were to tie with the Islanders for points and ROW at the end of the year.

The Islanders have survived the hardest part of their remaining schedule after taking on the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Boston Bruins over the past three games and going 2-1-0. After the Predators, they’ll still have to face the Philadelphia Flyers, Buffalo Sabres, the Predators again, Carolina Hurricanes, and New Jersey Devils all on the road. Their only remaining home games are against the New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators.

Detroit Red Wings @ Carolina Hurricanes

Best Case: Red Wings win in regulation

OK Case: Red Wings win in overtime or shootout

Worst Case: Hurricanes win in any fashion

The Hurricanes have continued their charge to get back into the playoff conversation. There’s definitely questions about whether they can hold up. They are 7-0-3 over their last ten games and have pulled to within two points of the Lightning, and will still have a game in hand. Games in hand aren’t guarantees, but they are opportunities to make up points on teams ahead of them that those teams cannot match.

Tonight they are playing a make-up game against the Red Wings at home for a game that was canceled earlier this season due to ice refrigeration issues. They’ll play a back-to-back against the Red Wings at home tonight and tomorrow night. After that, their schedule is a mixed bag of good and bad teams as they take on the Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, New York Islanders, and St. Louis Blues at home. On the road, they still have to face the Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota Wild, and Philadelphia Flyers.