Final week of the season begins; Lightning at Buffalo Sabres preview

WHERE: HSBC Arena, Buffalo, New York
MEDIA: 620 WDAE 970 WFLA (radio)

This is the last time you will not be able to catch a Tampa Bay Lightning game on TV this season.

Yeah, yeah, sad but true -- this match-up is not televised in the Tampa Bay market, unless you have NHL Center Ice, that is. That also could have been the case for Sunday's shutout win in Chicago, but Sun Sports picked up the game, and we got a late season treat in Mike Smith's first shutout of the season.

The story today is Vincent Lecavalier, much as it was yesterday. Vinny was high-sticked during Sunday's action by Chicago's Michael Frolik and missed most of the game after the incident (not that he didn't try to get back out on ice). It wouldn't have been so alarming if the injury hadn't been to / around his eye.

Vinny is listed as day-to-day, and will be a game-time decision for tonight's action.

Meanwhile, back to Buffalo, the Sabres are playing for their collective playoff lives. The last three seeds in the playoffs are still up for grabs -- with Buffalo currently being situated 8th in the Eastern Conference. They'll be jockeying for position (and hoping the Carolina Hurricanes don't catch them) for the remainder of the season, and can finish as high as 6th int he East.

Both teams come into tonight with a 6-2-2 record in their past ten games. The Lightning are riding a five-game win streak, and the Sabres are coming off a crucial win against the Carolina Hurricanes.

They are also coming without Ryan Miller in net. Miller has been out with an "upper-body" injury.

The Bolts come into this contest, vying for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Lightning, seeded fifth as it stands at this moment, can overtake the Pittsburgh Penguins in the standings with a win and a subsequent Pittsburgh loss. And while improbable, winning the Southeast Division is still an option for the Lightning. They're four points behind the Capitals in the standings with 3 games (and a potential 6 points) remaining for each club.

It's improbable for the Bolts to win the division, but stranger things have happened.

One question that has not been answered by this writing is who starts in net tonight for Tampa Bay? Do you go back to your #1 netminder in Dwayne Roloson? Or do you reward strong play by backup Mike Smith and give him another start?

Expect Eric Brewer and Ryan Malone back in the lineup for the Lightning tonight. They were both kept out of Sunday's win in Chicago.

Special teams: Buffalo is ranked 8th in the NHL on the power play, converting 18.9% of their opportunities. The Bolts are still ranked 6th, converting 20.4% of their power play chances. On the flip side, the Sabre penalty-kill is ranked 15th in the NHL, stopping opponent power plays 82.9% of the time. The Lightning are ranked 11th in the league, with an 83.6% kill-rate.

After tonight, the Bolts head home... Some for a head shaving. For everyone, the home season finale on Thursday against the Panthers.

Other Previews

Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview

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