Despite losing five of their previous seven games, the Tampa Bay Lightning can move into first place in the Atlantic Division with a win tonight at Amalie Arena over the Detroit Red Wings.
The Lightning are currently two points back of division-leading Florida, which is idle tonight. If the Bolts pick up two points against Detroit, they’ll move ahead of the Panthers based on being level on points and having more wins in regulation and overtime (Tampa Bay’s ROW is currently 38; Florida’s is 33).
“That’s why you can’t overanalyze things, you can’t panic,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said following the team’s morning skate. “We go through a stretch where we win nine in a row and then we lose five of six and then go on a road trip and go .500. We’ve got a chance tonight to win and be first in our division, so with 10 games left in the season for us, I think it’s probably going to be that way to the end of the year.”
The Lightning will be facing a desperate team in Detroit tonight. The Red Wings are in danger of having their incredible 24-year postseason streak snapped. Detroit would be the eighth and final wild card team if the playoffs were to begin today, but Philadelphia is just one point back of the Red Wings with a game in hand.
“This is a huge game for them and us,” said Lightning netminder Ben Bishop, who was the first goalie off the ice from today’s morning skate and will make his 54th start of the season tonight. “They’re a good team. They play good in these kind of playoff atmosphere-type games. They have a lot of veteran guys over there that have been there, done that. They have a lot of pride. They don’t want to miss the playoffs. It’s going to be probably a playoff-type game tonight, two hungry teams. It’s going to be important to get off to a good start after that long road trip home and having a couple days off, those first 20 minutes are going to be important.”
The Lightning and the Red Wings are playing the final game in the four-game season series between the two teams tonight. Each team has won on home ice in the previous three and goals have been at a premium.
“It’s kind of one of those games where whoever blinks first type deals,” Bolts head coach Jon Cooper said. “They’re hard games to play, and if you’re not willing to fight through a check, to fight through a pick, to go to the dirty areas to score, you’re probably going to have a tough time winning the game.”
CALLAHAN, FILPPULA STATUS
Lightning forward Valtteri Filppula participated in the Bolts’ morning skate and wore a grey jersey (forwards typically wear blue and white; defensemen wear black). But, he won’t return tonight to play his former team.
Cooper said Filppula is out and still day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
“I know it’s always a tough one for Fil because he always likes to play his old team, but he can’t go yet,” Cooper said.
Filppula has missed the Lightning’s last three games.
Bolts alternate captain Ryan Callahan was absent at morning skate and also won’t play tonight versus Detroit. Callahan missed the Bolts’ win in Arizona on Saturday after suffering a lower-body injury in the previous game against Dallas.
“He’ll be I don’t expect too much longer,” Cooper said. “Hopefully on the weekend for him.”
Tampa Bay has been relative fortunate injury-wise since January 1 but has seen a few minor bumps and bruises beset the team in recent weeks. As long as they’re not losing anybody long term, however, they should be able to overcome these latest setbacks.
“I think this group is kind of been accustomed to dealing with important players going down with injury over the past three seasons probably,” Stamkos said. “We’ve handled it well, but obviously you want to be as healthy as you can be.”
HOME SWEET HOME
The Lightning open a six-game home stand tonight against Detroit, the Bolts’ final home stand of the regular season.
The first three games – tonight vs. the Red Wings, Friday vs. the Islanders and Saturday vs. Florida – all come against teams in a position to make the playoffs. With 10 games remaining in the regular season, it will be important for the Bolts to start the home stand strong against teams they’re battling with to make the postseason.
“The standings are changing every day based on a stretch of two, three games,” Stamkos said. “Anytime you get a chance to play six straight at home, you have to take advantage of that. We’ve been on the road it seemed like a lot this past month and a half. We’ve been able to tread water and give ourselves a chance to win a division title. This is going to be a big stretch if we want to do that.”
Following the six-game stretch of games at home, the Lightning close out the regular season with four games on the road.
“We have these two weeks of home ice and then the last week of the season we’re on the road,” Bishop said. “It’s going to be important to take care of this home ice while we’re here, and then hopefully there won’t be as much pressure on the road that last week.”
ODDS AND ENDS
The Lightning rank tied for fifth in the NHL for goal differential (+25) and wins in regulation/overtime (38)…Nikita Kucherov is on a two-game goal streak and needs two more goals this season to match his career high (29) from a season ago…The Bolts are 6-3-0 in their first game back at Amalie Arena following a multi-game road trip and have won their last six in such situations…Ben Bishop leads the NHL for goals-against average (2.02) and is second for save percentage (.928)…The Lightning have won five-consecutive regular season games at home over Detroit.