The Tampa Bay Lightning could wrap up a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third-consecutive season as early as tonight when they face the New Jersey Devils in the regular-season home finale at Amalie Arena.
The Lightning would clinch if they defeat the Devils and Detroit loses in Toronto in regulation tonight.
Both the New Jersey-Tampa Bay and Detroit-Toronto games start at 7 p.m., so around 10 p.m. the Lightning should know if they’re in or if there’s more work left to do.
“Players know what’s going on,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “They say they don’t, but in the age of social media, everybody knows what’s going on. We all know where we are in the standings and what we have to do, and we need to get points out of tonight.”
If the Bolts don’t clinch tonight, they still have time to do so. Following tonight’s home finale, the Lightning close out the regular season on a four-game road trip with matchups against the Islanders (Monday), Rangers (Tuesday), Devils (Thursday) and Montreal (Saturday).
They’d like to take care of business at home, however, if the opportunity presents itself.
“We’ve got a four-game road trip through a bunch of tough buildings,” Cooper said. “It’s not something we want to have to sit there and have panic set in because we haven’t clinched a spot. If we have an opportunity right now to get more points at home with a team that’s been on the road a little bit, we’ve got to take advantage of that.”
New Jersey closes a four-game, seven-day road trip in Tampa.
Tonight’s matchup is the second of three meetings against the Devils and the only one at Amalie Arena. The Lightning shut out New Jersey 4-0 at the Prudential Center on February 26 behind a 21-save effort from Ben Bishop.
“They’re a good team,” Bishop said. “They have a really good power play right now, one of the hottest power plays in the league, so it’s going to be important to stay disciplined. I think Cory Schneider’s back [from injury]. Obviously he’s one of the best goalies in the league, so you have to be on top of your game. It’s always fun playing against the best, and he’ll be back in tonight and he’ll give his team a spark.”
STRALMAN ADDRESSES MEDIA
Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman spoke to the media for the first time since suffering a non-displaced fracture of his left fibula on March 25 against the New York Islanders.
Stralman wore a walking boot on his left leg as he spoke. He was in good spirits, said he’s been able to do some rehab on the bike and upper-body work and is aiming to get back on the ice as soon as possible. Stralman didn’t have a timeline for his return.
“I’m just trying to go day by day and see the little things, the little improvements,” Stralman said. “There’s definitely going to be a few weeks (before returning). It’s a fracture, and the bone has to heal before I can do anything. We’ll see. Hopefully, I’ve got good healing powers, otherwise I blame my dad. We’ll see. I’m trying to stay positive and just go about it and hopefully that good spirit will heal quicker.”
Stralman didn’t feel there was any maliciousness on the play where the injured occurred. He got tied up with the Islanders’ Anders Lee in front of the Lightning net and fell backward awkwardly, his left skate getting caught in the ice as he tumbled.
“I’m trying to box him out, and he’s trying to get in front of Bish,” Stralman said. “It’s just a normal battle. I fell on the ice. It’s more unfortunate my toe got stuck more than anything…It’s unfortunate. I’m not happy about it, especially when all the fun is about to start. But there’s still hope, and I’m trying to do everything I can to heal up quick and hopefully be back for the playoffs at some point.”
After watching the replay of the injury, Stralman said he feels fortunate there wasn’t more damage done to his left leg.
“It definitely could have been a lot worse,” he said. “So I guess at the end of the day, I guess I was a little bit lucky.”
Stralman has been extremely durable in his time with the Lightning up until the setback. He skated in all 108 regular season and playoff games last year and was on his way to doing so again this year before missing his first game in a Bolts sweater on March 8 because of the flu.
“I’ve been pretty fortunate in my career so far injury-wise,” he said. “This is the second serious injury I’ve had. That’s pretty good for a nine-year stretch. It happens. It’s about recovery and trying to stay upbeat about it and not think about all the negatives and just try to take advantage of other opportunities right now that I can do that I normally can’t with the kids, be there a little bit more on field trips and all those other things I usually miss.”
ODDS AND ENDS
Ben Bishop was the first goaltender off the ice from Saturday’s morning skate and will make his 58th start of the season tonight. Bishop (4,872 saves with Lightning) needs 87 more saves to tie Daren Puppa (4,959) for first on the all-time franchise saves list, one of a number of Bolts’ records Bishop has set this season. “Hopefully we can keep adding to it, keep them far enough so (backup goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy) won’t be able to pass them all,” Bishop joked…The Lightning can with their 25th game at home this season with a victory tonight. The Bolts have won 25 or more games at home in four of their last five season. “Ever since I got here, I think that was probably one of the pleasant surprises,” Bishop said. “When you think of Florida, you don’t really think of much of a hockey market. But every game’s sold out. It’s a great atmosphere. Obviously, sometimes there’s some other jerseys in the stands, but that just kind of adds to the atmosphere, kind of makes it a little more of a rowdy atmosphere and makes it fun for us to play.”…With five games remaining, the Lightning are two points behind Atlantic Division leader Florida…Tampa Bay ranks fourth in the NHL for goals allowed per game (2.36).