The Tampa Bay Lightning continue their six-game home stand – the final home stand of the regular season – when they host the New York Islanders tonight.
After defeating the Detroit Red Wings 6-2 Tuesday to start the home stand, the Lightning welcome another potential playoff opponent to Amalie Arena. The Islanders currently hold the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference but are just two points in front of eighth-place Philadelphia and ninth-place Detroit, meaning they’ll have added incentive tonight against the Bolts: remaining above the playoff cutoff line.
“Much like us, they’ve kind of been up and down the last 10 games,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “We’re both looking at ourselves saying it’s way too close for comfort. When teams behind you are winning, it just puts pressure on you to win as well…This has just got barn burner written all over it, two teams that are coming in here to gut one out.”
The Lightning, too, are a desperate team. After briefly moving into first place in the Atlantic Division following the Detroit victory, the Bolts are back in second in the division after Florida defeated Boston last night. The Lightning can jump to the top of the Atlantic standings again tonight with a win over the Islanders.
Despite being so close to the top, the Lightning find themselves just four points in front of Detroit and Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference, making every point over the last nine games of the regular season critical.
“We’ve got to get points from this,” Cooper said. “We can’t worry about where the Islanders are at or what they’re fighting for. We’re at home. We have the next five at home. We have to look after home ice.”
The Lightning play another likely playoff team in Florida on Saturday before closing out the home stand against Toronto (March 28), Montreal (March 31) and New Jersey (April 2), three teams out of the playoff picture.
CALLAHAN, FILPPULA STILL OUT
Tampa Bay forwards Ryan Callahan and Valtteri Filppula will miss one more game as both will sit tonight according to Cooper, who added he didn’t know their status for Saturday’s Atlantic Division tilt versus the Panthers.
Both Callahan and Filppula participated in Friday’s morning skate, but both wore grey jerseys and didn’t take part in line rushes or some of the drills.
Filppula has missed the last four games with an upper-body injury.
Callahan has a lower-body injury and hasn’t played in the last two games.
The Lightning took two full days off following their four-game, eight-day road trip and looked refreshed as a result in the Detroit contest, dominating the Red Wings 6-2.
The Bolts cancelled a scheduled practice Thursday with hopes for a similar outcome.
“Especially at this time of year, we’ve played so much hockey, we’ve had a lot of practices, anytime you can get a day off, it’s nice,” Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. “It’s refreshing for the mind and obviously for the body…Our coaching staff does a great job with days off to make sure guys are feeling good coming to the rink every day.”
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said every player is different. Some like to practice regularly to maintain a similar routine each day. Others, like himself, want to stay off the ice as much as possible to stay fresh for the game.
“The longer you play and the more you know your body, you know what you need,” he said. “I think it’s more mentally just staying off the ice and trying to get a break when you have that extra day in between games so your mind is sharp and your body’s sharp. That’s a big key for us going down the stretch. I expect nothing less from us tonight, having fresh legs and being ready to go from the start.”
ODDS AND ENDS
The Lightning are 7-3-0 this season in the first game of a back-to-back set…Ben Bishop will likely start in goal tonight for Tampa Bay. Bishop was the first goaltender off the ice at morning skate and has won three of his last four starts…Victor Hedman is on a three-game assist streak and recorded his team-leading eighth multi-assist game in Tuesday’s win over Detroit…Nikita Kucherov can match a career high with one more goal this season. He currently is second on the Bolts with 28 goals. He scored 29 last year…The Bolts’ +29 goal differential ranks tied for second in the NHL…Tampa Bay has 39 wins in regulation/overtime (tiebreaker used when teams are tied on points), which ranks tied for second in the Eastern Conference and tied for fifth in the NHL.