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At the Rink: Lightning at Panthers

by Alain Poupart /

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Center Tyler Johnson is expected back in the lineup for the Tampa Bay Lightning when they face the Florida Panthers on Saturday and try to clinch home-ice advantage for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (7 p.m. ET; SUN, FS-F).

Johnson, the Lightning’s second-leading scorer with 67 points, missed the past three games because of an upper-body injury.

Coach John Cooper declined to confirm if Johnson would play, but Johnson was on a line with Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov during morning skate.

Tampa Bay (47-24-8) needs one point to clinch at least second place in the Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay trails the Montreal Canadiens by two points for first place, but holds the tiebreaker advantage with four more regular or overtime victories.

Florida (36-27-15)???is clinging to faint playoff hopes. The Panthers trail the Boston Bruins for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoff from the Eastern Conference by six points with four games remaining for each team.

Boston plays host to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

The Panthers will be eliminated from playoff contention Saturday with a regulation loss; if they lose in overtime or a shootout, and both Boston and the Detroit Red Wings pick up at least one point; or with victories by both Boston and Detroit.

Florida kept its playoff hopes alive Thursday with a 6-1 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes in the first game of a five-game season-ending homestand.

“As of right now, we’re still part of it,”???defenseman Erik Gudbranson said. “We’re not where we want to be. It’s kind of tough to hope and pray that other teams do the job we wished we accomplished early in the season. We’ve got to come out hard and play extremely well for the rest (of the season).

“We still have an opportunity to do it. There’s crazier things that have happened in the NHL. We still have that opportunity. It’s kind of dwindling. It’s smaller than it was. The window is closing. But we’ve got to come out and get these points for sure. We’ve been playing a really good style of hockey for the second half of the season, espedcially these past six weeks. We want to continue to do that and just come out and win these games.”

The Lightning will be wrapping up a five-game road trip Saturday with their last regular season game away from Amalie Arena. They will be off until Thursday when they play host to the New Jersey Devils.

Tampa Bay is 1-2-1 on the road trip, including a 2-1 overtime loss against Ottawa on Thursday.

The Lightning lead the NHL???with 251 goals but managed only two during their past three losses.

“We’ve had our chances,”???Cooper said. “Although the Ottawa game, we didn’t have a ton, the one thing I was really happy with we didn’t give up a ton. That’s probably more important to us than the scoring because we know that we’re eventually going to score at some point. Even the top-scoring teams in the League, there’s times that the well dries up every once in a while, but you stick to your habits and your principles, it usually comes back. One big thing is this is the end of a long road trip for us and we’ve got to man up here. We’ve got to make sure we come out strong tonight.”

Despite going 1-3-1 in its past five games, Tampa Bay still has a chance to win the Atlantic Division title because Montreal has won only once in its past six games (1-2-3).

“To be honest, we’re surprised that the division is still in reach,”???Cooper said. “It’s almost like you’re looking at Tampa and Montreal, our win-loss record the last five games, you’re thinking nobody wants it almost. It’s funny how two of the teams with the most points are kind of struggling down the stretch.

“I guess when it’s all over after 82 games and you’re on top, would it be really cool to have a banner you could hang??????????That would be awesome. But getting home ice at some portion of the playoffs, that’s more important.”

Here are the projected lineups:


Alex Killorn - Steven Stamkos - Ryan Callahan

Jonathan Drouin - Brian Boyle - J.T. Brown

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Vladislav Namestnikov - Valtteri Filppula - Cedric Paquette

Nikita Nesterov - Anton Stralman

Slater Koekkoek - Matthew Carle

Mark Barberio - Luke Witkowski

Ben Bishop

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Scratched: Brenden Morrow

Injured: Jason Garrison (upper body), Braydon Coburn (lower body), Andrej Sustr (upper body), Victor Hedman (upper body)


Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr

Brandon Pirri - Vincent Trocheck - Jimmy Hayes

Jussi Jokinen - Dave Bolland - Brad Boyes

Tomas Kopecky - Derek MacKenzie - Scottie Upshall

Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad

Willie Mitchell - Erik Gudbranson

Dmitry Kulikov - Alex Petrovic

Roberto Luongo

Dan Ellis

Scratched:???????????????????????????Steven Kampfer, Shawn Thornton

Injured: Nick Bjugstad (back), Al Montoya (groin)

Status report: Hedman took part in the morning skate but will miss his third consecutive game. Cooper said he was hoping Hedman could play next week but wasn’t “holding my breath”???????????????????????????that he would be in the lineup against New Jersey on Thursday. ... Garrison also did some work on the ice Saturday, but he’s not expected back before the playoffs. ... Upshall will return to the Florida lineup after missing two games with a shoulder injury.

Who’s hot: Namestnikov has four goals in the past seven games. ... Pirri has 19 goals in his past 26 games. ... Huberdeau has four goals and 14 assists in 16 games. ... Jagr has four goals and five assists in the past eight games.

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