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Lightning can possibly pack postseason bags as soon as tonight

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

For a while now, it’s been a foregone conclusion the Tampa Bay Lightning will qualify for the 2014-15 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Bolts can make it official as early as tonight, though.

If the Lightning defeat tonight’s opponent, the Nashville Predators, and Boston loses either in regulation or overtime/shootout to Anaheim, Tampa Bay can punch its ticket to the postseason.

The Lightning can still clinch with a loss in overtime/shootout if Boston loses in regulation.

A Tampa Bay loss in regulation means the Bolts will have to wait a little longer to secure their spot in the playoffs.

“I don’t think it really matters when we clinch,” Lightning defenseman Matt Carle said. “It’s nice to know that we’ve got a spot in the dance, but you want to be playing the right way and having that playoff mentality no matter what.”

Carle, who didn’t know that the Lightning could clinch a postseason bid tonight until told by reporters, said the team is more focused right now on continuing to peak toward the postseason and correcting any flaws.

“(Clinching) is nothing that’s been talked about in our room,” Carle said. “We’ve felt like we’ve been a playoff team from day one, so it’s not a surprise to us to be where we are. We want to be playing the right way at the right time and we’ve got eight games left here to hone little things here and there every night and try to put in a full 60 minutes where we’re rolling when it comes April.”

BISHOP GOES FOR RECORD

Ben Bishop will start in net tonight for the Lightning and can pick up his 37th victory of the season, which would tie the franchise mark he set just one season ago for most wins in a single year by a goalie.

Bishop is 36-11-4 currently with eight games remaining in the regular season.

“He’s been the backbone of our team,” Carle said. “It was the case last year, and it’s no different this year. As he goes, we go.”

Bishop has been near unbeatable during the last month or so, going 9-1-1 over his last 11 starts.

MORE RECORDS

In the 4-3 victory against Florida on Tuesday, the Lightning tied a franchise mark for most wins in a season with their 46th victory, a number hit during the 2013-14, 2010-11 and 2003-04 seasons.

Tonight, the 2014-15 Bolts can claim the record all to themselves with a win versus Nashville.

“It’s nothing that we really keep track of, but I think if you ever look in the history books of the Tampa Bay Lightning and you see (this) was the year we were there, I think it will be pretty special looking back at it,” Carle said.

The Lightning can also continue to add to their franchise record for home victories. Currently, the Lightning have won 30 games at Amalie Arena, which obliterated the old mark of 25 set in four previous seasons (2013-14, 2011-12, 2010-11 and 2005-06).

PAQUETTE PROBABLE

Lightning forward Cedric Paquette showed no limitations at today’s optional morning skate and said he’s ready to play tonight against the Predators.

“I feel good out on the ice,” Paquette said. “I don’t feel anything wrong right now, so hopefully it stays that way.”

Paquette has missed the last six games with an upper-body injury. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said Paquette should be ready to go tonight, which is welcome news for the Lightning considering the value the 21-year-old provides to the team.

“Grit, size, pain in the (butt), ability to score, PK, last minute…He’s a big part of our team,” Cooper said. “He plays big minutes in big situations for us. To lose (Bryadon) Coburn, (Ondrej) Palat and Paquette, probably three of our more, our players that go to the dirty areas, fight for pucks, retrieve pucks, block shots, that’s what those guys do and to get Palat back was huge and to get Paquette back just adds more depth and size up front, which we could always use.”

With Paquette returning, the Lightning have a decision to make concerning forward Vladislav Namestnikov, who was an emergency recall from the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch.

“As I’m sitting here evaluating our team and I’m watching Namestnikov play, really hard to pull him out of the lineup right now,” Cooper said. “Next question is, ‘Well, who do you pull out of the lineup Coop?’ And my follow up to that is, ‘I don’t know.’ But, that’s a good sign with your team when those decisions are really difficult.”

Cooper said currently the Lightning don’t have any plans to send Namestnikov back to Syracuse but that could change in the coming days.

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