The Tampa Bay Lightning got a bit of good news going into their Eastern Conference showdown against the Washington Capitals, the top team in the Metropolitan Division.
Bolts forward Ondrej Palat and defenseman Jake Dotchin appear to be good to go for tonight's critical home tilt. Both players were not on the ice for Tampa Bay's training session on Friday, and Lightning head coach Jon Cooper suggested their status for the Washington game was in question.
Palat and Dotchin participated, however, in the Bolts' morning skate Saturday and all indications are they'll be in the lineup versus the Capitals.
"We'll see in warmups, but it was encouraging this morning," Cooper said.
The news wasn't as encouraging for a trio of Lightning centers injured on March 9 versus Minnesota. Vladislav Namestnikov participated in morning skate but wore a red no-contact jersey for the second day in a row. Tyler Johnson and Cedric Paquette were both absent.
Cooper said all three will miss tonight's game, and there's no timetable when they might return to the lineup.
The loss of three valuable players like Johnson, Namestnikov and Paquette is magnified because it comes at a crucial juncture of the season.
"It's one thing you lose a winger here or a defenseman here or something like that but between player transactions and injuries, to have that many players down the middle go out is numbing," an exasperated Cooper said.
Video: Dotchin on defensive effort against WSHFORGETTING TORONTO: The Lightning saw their four-game win streak come to an end Thursday following a disheartening 5-0 loss to Toronto.
But the Bolts were fortunate in that nearly every team in the East also lost that night, leaving the Bolts still in a somewhat favorable position to obtain a playoff spot.
With 12 games remaining in the regular season, Tampa Bay sits tied with the New York Islanders and one point behind Toronto -- although the Maple Leafs have a game in hand - for the final wild card in the East. The Lightning trail third-place Boston by five points heading into Saturday's games.
"We're licking our wounds from a 5-0 loss," Cooper said. "We have to beat these guys tonight. We need the points. That's what our big focus is."
A win tonight over the Capitals would go a long way in helping the Lightning get over the loss two nights earlier to the Maple Leafs.
"There are 82 (games), sometimes (losses) are going to happen," Cooper said. "The fact that it happened in game 70, whatever it was, when we're fighting for a playoff spot is tough, but get some points tonight and easy way to forget it."
In Washington, the Lightning are facing a team they haven't had much success with in recent seasons. The Bolts have dropped six of their last seven games against the Capitals and have been outscored 25-12 over those seven games.
Tampa Bay earned a 2-1 shootout win over the Caps at AMALIE Arena on December 3 but were dismantled 4-0 at the Verizon Center on December 23.
"They've got a lot of skilled guys over there, a lot of speed guys, even some physical guys over there too," Dotchin said. "They've got a bit of everything, and I think we've just got to play our game, chip pucks in, chip pucks out, get them to the net and stir it up a bit and see where it takes us."
Video: Cooper on matchup with WSHSCOREBOARD WATCHING: Cooper admitted the first thing he did after the Toronto loss was find out what happened to the other teams in the Eastern Conference on Thursday. The fact the Bolts weren't the only team to stumble that night helped mitigate the damage from an ugly loss.
In the past, Cooper has said he rarely pays attention to the standings and what other teams are doing on a particular night. But with the regular season so close to finishing and a handful of teams jumbled together trying to grab the final wild card, it's impossible not to pay attention to the out of town scores.
"You can't help but look now and see what other teams are doing," Cooper said. "But it's always post game. It's never before. It's never, you know, I don't even know who they're playing right now. I know they're all playing today, I just don't know who, and I don't really care to."
Video: Erne on bouncing back from loss to TORICE CHIPS: Andrei Vasilevskiy wasn't on the ice for Tampa Bay's optional morning skate on Saturday, suggesting he'll be in goal tonight when the Lightning host the Capitals. Vasilevskiy will be making his third-consecutive start and can set a new career high for wins in a month with one more victory. He currently has five in March, the same amount of wins he put up in January of 2016…Nikita Kucherov needs just one more goal to reach the 100-goal milestone for his career…Victor Hedman can tie Roman Hamrlik for most points in a season by a Lightning defenseman with six more points. Hedman currently has 14 goals and 45 assists for 59 points, all career highs. Hamrlik put up 16 goals and 49 assists for 65 points during the 1995-96 season.