DEVILS (32-35-13) at LIGHTNING (48-24-8)
TV: MSG+, SUN
TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning will begin their final preparations for the Stanley Cup Playoffs Thursday against the New Jersey Devils at Amalie Arena (7:30 p.m. ET; MSG+, SUN).
Tampa Bay (48-24-8) enters two points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the Atlantic Division title. The Canadiens will host the Detroit Red Wings, who can clinch a playoff berth with a win and could be a possible opponent for the Lightning in the Eastern Conference first round.
"We still have a lot to play for," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "Obviously we want to be healthy for the playoffs and continue to peak at the right time, but we're also still battling for a division title."
Defenseman Victor Hedman will return to the lineup Thursday after two days of practice. The Lightning are still missing defensemen Jason Garrison, Andrej Sustr and Braydon Coburn, but Cooper expects Sustr to be available for the start of the playoffs and Coburn participated in the optional skate Thursday without a red non-contact jersey.
"I am feeling pretty good right now and I'm ready to get back out there and help the team," Hedman said. "I felt better at practice [Wednesday] than the day before. I thought the young guys played well and they have been a big boost with all the injuries we have."
Forward Vladislav Namestnikov missed practice Wednesday with an illness but Cooper said he should be the lineup Thursday. Alex Killorn will not play Thursday and is likely out until the start of the playoffs.
New Jersey (32-35-13) has long been eliminated from playoff contention but has won its two games against Tampa Bay this season: 2-1 on Oct. 14 and 3-2 in a shootout on Dec. 19.
"We want to keep our game sharp for the playoffs and continue to win games," Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. "It's important not to let up because we're still trying to challenge for a better seed and you want to be playing your best hockey right now."
The Devils recalled defensemen Raman Hrabarenka and Seth Helgeson from Albany of the American Hockey League and they will be in the lineup.
Here are the projected lineups:
Adam Henrique – Scott Gomez – Steve Bernier
Mike Cammalleri – Travis Zajac – Jordin Tootoo
Dainius Zubrus – Patrik Elias - Stephen Gionta
Stefan Matteau – Jacob Josefson – Tuomo Ruutu
Andy Greene- Adam Larsson
Mark Fraser- Damon Severson
Seth Helgeson- Raman Hrabarenka
Scratched: Peter Harrold, Reid Boucher, Michael Ryder, Martin Havlat
Injured: Eric Gelinas (undisclosed), Jon Merrill (undisclosed), Ryane Clowe (concussion), Bryce Salvador (back)
Jonathan Drouin – Steven Stamkos – Ryan Callahan
Ondrej Palat – Tyler Johnson – Nikita Kucherov
Cedric Paquette – Valtteri Filppula – Vladislav Namestnikov
Brenden Morrow – Brian Boyle – J.T. Brown
Victor Hedman – Anton Stralman
Matthew Carle – Luke Witkowski
Mark Barberio – Nikita Nesterov
Injured: Braydon Coburn (foot), Alex Killorn (undisclosed), Andrej Sustr (upper body), Jason Garrison (upper body)
Status report: With Hedman returning, defensemen Slater Koekkoek was reassigned to Syracuse of the AHL. … Gionta will return to the lineup after missing three games with a back injury. … Jon Cooper said it will be a surprise if Coburn is ready for the start of the playoffs. … Boucher is expected to return to the lineup Saturday against the Florida Panthers.
Who's hot: Stamkos scored two goals in a 4-0 victory against the Panthers last Saturday. … Bernier had a goal and an assist in a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday.