NHL Playoff Race: Tampa Bay Lightning pass the test and move to within one point of the wild card

A wild and crazy 5-4 overtime win against the Blackhawks put the Lightning closer to the playoffs.

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

Wow. Just. Wow. Before I get too far into this, I want to share my personal viewpoint of last night’s game. I was in Amalie Arena in my usual seat. Even before I made it into the Arena, I knew there were going to be a lot of red jerseys walking around. When I got up to my seat in the 300 level and looked towards the lower bowl where the Blackhawks would be attacking twice, it was a sea of red.

The rest of the arena wasn’t much different. Blackhawks fans always travel well, and tend to show up in Amalie Arena even when the Blackhawks aren’t within 4,000 miles of Tampa Bay, but that’s besides the point. I was also told that it is spring break this week for Chicago schools, resulting in even more people coming to town for the game.

After the Blackhawks went up 3-1 in the first period, Lightning fans got rather quiet. Sporadic “Let’s Go Blackhawks” chants were popping up, and got worse when Andrei Vasilevskiy returned to the net for the second period and former Bolt Richard Panik scored the fourth goal. The Lightning fans rallied a bit with the Jonathan Drouin goal to pull the Lightning back to within two goals. When Anton Stralman scored just over a minute later, the arena absolutely erupted. It felt like a playoff game. It continued through the second period with Drouin scoring his second goal.

The third period was a bit quieter as the Lightning struggled to produce much offensive pressure on the Blackhawks and only managed three shots on goal. But that changed in overtime. There were so many back and forth rushes and chances. I haven’t seen a 3-on-3 overtime quite like that in a long time, maybe even since the beginning of last season. The first few 3-on-3 overtimes of 2015-16 were high energy, fast-paced back and forth games. Who remembers the first one against the Philadelphia Flyers? This overtime felt like that.

Most overtimes now are all about puck possession. Teams are less willing to have one and done shifts where they get a shot, lose the puck, and have to defend a rush. The Lightning defended well and only allowed one Chicago shot in overtime, which was met by a beauty of a save from Vasilevskiy. Yanni Gourde’s game winner was a laser and perfectly placed to beat Scott Darling. The Arena exploded again and it was an absolutely amazing moment.

Cherish that. Remember that. We may be looking at this game as one of the moments that saved the Lightning’s season.

Elsewhere on the scoreboard, our really good friends the Nashville Predators took care of business against the New York Islanders. Carolina managed to make it to overtime before losing to Detroit. They also had a very scary incident on the game winning goal with Eddie Lack getting hit in the head and being stretchered off the ice.

  • Chicago Blackhawks 4 @ Tampa Bay Lightning 5 OT - BEST CASE
  • Nashville Predators 3 @ New York Islanders 1 - Best Case
  • Detroit Red Wings 4 @ Carolina Hurricanes 3 OT - OK Case/

Tonight’s Games that Matter

The Lightning have put themselves one point back of the Boston Bruins for the second wild card spot. They’re also sitting a point ahead of the Islanders. All three teams have the same number of games played with seven games to go. The Hurricanes have a game in hand, but they’ll make it up with their game tonight, and sit four points back of Boston for the wild card. The Lightning will get a couple days of rest before taking on the Detroit Red Wings at home on Thursday. The Red Wings are going to be in rough shape because they’ll have had to play four games in five nights with just tomorrow off.

Nashville Predators @ Boston Bruins

Best Case: Predators win in regulation

OK Case: Predators win in overtime or shootout

Worst Case: Bruins win in any fashion

Over the next week, Lightning fans are going to be the Predators’ BIGGEST FANS. We are all cheering for Smashville. They took out the Islanders last night. They face the Bruins tonight. Then they take on Toronto on Thursday at home. Next Tuesday, they’ll also face the Islanders again at home. Those are some big games for the Lightning if the Predators can take care of business and help the Lightning out.

The Bruins hold a four ROW advantage over the Lightning. It’s unlikely the Lightning will win the tiebreaker over Boston and will need to surpass them in points to get ahead of the Bruins in the standings. With Tuuka Rask listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury, the Bruins could be set to slide in the standings with how weak their back-up goaltending situation has been this season.

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

A day after playing each other, both teams will again face off in Raleigh. Last night’s game was the result of rescheduling a previously canceled game. This has caused the Red Wings to play in the rare “three-in-three” that the AHL is known for in it’s scheduling. The Red Wings will get one day off tomorrow and then face the Lightning on Thursday. The Hurricanes have continued their point streak and have steadily gained ground in the standings. However, it’s likely too little too late, barring big collapses from the three teams in front of them.

Florida Panthers @ Toronto Maple Leafs

Best Case: Panthers win in regulation

OK Case: Panthers win in overtime or shootout

Worst Case: Maple Leafs win in any fashion

The Maple Leafs have widened the gap in the Atlantic Division, but aren’t quite out of reach. They sit one point ahead of Boston and two points ahead of the Lightning, but have a game in hand. While having a game in hand is not a guarantee of points, it does represent an opportunity to gain ground in the race that your chasers cannot make up. With a loss in regulation, the Maple Leafs would remain within striking distance for the Lightning. The two teams have one more match up left in Toronto next week.