TAMPA -- The winner of the game between the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday could clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and until that is done neither team is focused on what is coming in a couple of weeks.
Both teams know that barring an extraordinary turn of events they will be facing each other in the first round of the playoffs, giving their game Tuesday added meaning.
"I'm fairly certain that each team can sit here and say, 'Oh, we're not worried, we're only worried about making the playoffs,' but let's be honest," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "Both of these teams know exactly where we sit, how close we are to each other and potentially what can happen and what can happen here in a couple of weeks. So there is a lot on the line.
"I'm certain this will have a different feel that your run-of-the-mill one of 82."
The Canadiens could clinch a playoff spot with a victory. They also can get into the postseason if they get one point depending on the result of the Washington Capitals' game against the Dallas Stars and the New Jersey Devils' game against the Buffalo Sabres.
For the Lightning to clinch a playoff spot they need to beat the Canadiens in any fashion and have the Capitals lose in regulation and the Devils lose to the Sabres in any fashion.
"Our focus is on playing the way we're supposed to play, playing the right way and make sure we have a good work ethic," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "This is what we've been doing since the beginning of the year. We don't want to look too far ahead, but to be quite honest we understand this is a big game. There's a good chance we're going to meet Tampa Bay in the playoffs but we're focused on the way we're supposed to play."
The winner Tuesday likely will have the inside track on having home-ice advantage in a first-round series between the teams. Montreal enters the game second in the Atlantic Division with 93 points and five games remaining after Tuesday, while Tampa Bay is two points behind them in third with six games to play after this one.
"I think everyone knows this is a four-point game and [Tuesday's] game improves someone's chances of home ice," Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty said. "But I don't know how I feel about starting here or starting at home. Obviously it's nice to start at home in front of the home fans, but either way it's the same people on the ice, the same game. To me it doesn't really make a difference."
Goalie Ben Bishop will get his fifth straight start for the Lightning and his 27th in Tampa Bay's past 29 games. Despite the workload, Bishop says he is holding up well.
"I'm not feeling any more fatigue than anyone else," Bishop said. "We're coming down to the end and everyone is bumped and bruised, so there is a little bit of fatigue, but I think everyone is in the same boat."
The Canadiens will counter with Carey Price in goal. It will be his fourth straight start and his eighth in 10 games since returning from a lower-body injury he aggravated playing for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
"You're probably looking at the premiere goalie in the League in Carey Price," Cooper said. 'So everything starts there for [the Canadiens]."
Here are the probable lineups for the Canadiens and Lightning:
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Thomas Vanek
Alex Galchenyuk - Tomas Plekanec - Brendan Gallagher
Lars Eller - Daniel Briere - Brian Gionta
Michael Bournival - Ryan White - Rene Bourque
Andrei Markov - Alexei Emelin
Francis Bouillon - P.K. Subban
Douglas Murray - Mike Weaver
Scratched: George Parros, Jarred Tinordi
Injured: Josh Gorges (hand), Brandon Prust (upper body), Dale Weise (upper body), Travis Moen (concussion)
J.T. Brown - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Ondrej Palat - Valtteri Filppula - Ryan Callahan
Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov
Ryan Malone - Nate Thompson – Tom Pyatt
Victor Hedman - Sami Salo
Matthew Carle - Radko Gudas
Eric Brewer - Mark Barberio
Scratched: Keith Aulie, Michael Kostka, B.J. Crombeen, Cody Kunyk, Richard Panik
Injured: Brian Lee (knee)