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Playoff Buzz: Postseason hopes on line for Lightning

Tampa Bay must defeat Canadiens to have chance to win wild-card berth

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Welcome to the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz, your daily look at the stories impacting the sprint to the finish line of the 2016-17 regular season and the mad scramble for the one remaining spot -- the second wild card from the Eastern Conference -- in the postseason. There are three days remaining in the season. If the playoffs were to start today, this is what the bracket would look like. Here is all the playoff news for Friday:

5:46 p.m.
Setting up the night

There's only one game but it's a big one. So let's take a look at what's at stake Friday:

Tampa Bay Lightning at Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SNE, RDS, NHL.TV) -The Lightning need a win or their Stanley Cup Playoffs hopes are done. They're three points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with two games remaining. And they won't have centers Tyler Johnson or Steven Stamkos. They did it Thursday, defeating the Maple Leafs 4-1. Now they have to do it again. "At this point, all we can do is put a little pressure on," defenseman Anton Stralman told the Tampa Bay Times. "We have to have the same effort [Friday], or [Thursday] is a wasted one."

4:55 p.m.
Carlson could play for Capitals on Sunday

Defenseman John Carlson could return to the lineup for the Washington Capitals' regular-season finale against the Florida Panthers on Sunday.

Coach Barry Trotz told the Capitals website that Carlson won't play against the Boston Bruins on Saturday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, NHL.TV), the third straight game he'll be out because of a lower-body injury. However, he said a return Sunday is possible.

"But if there's any doubt we're going to hold him off until the playoffs," Trotz said.

Carlson leads the Capitals in average ice time at 22:42 per game and is second among Washington's defensemen with 37 points (nine goals, 28 assists).

With the Capitals having clinched everything there is to clinch, there's no rush to get Carlson into either game this weekend because of his importance to their Stanley Cup hopes.

Trotz said forward Brett Connolly is sick and won't play Saturday but could be available Sunday.

4:35 p.m.

Maple Leafs remain confident

The Toronto Maple Leafs still have the best chance of the three teams that can claim the final Stanley Cup Playoff berth. They hold the second wild card in the Eastern Conference and have a three-point lead on the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning with two games remaining, including a home game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, ROOT, NHL.TV).

Despite missing their first two chances to clinch, Toronto's confidence level remains high, according to correspondent Dave McCarthy.

"I don't know why we wouldn't [be confident]," rookie center Auston Matthews said. "We're in a good position, we just need a win. It's a great opportunity for us, especially in Toronto. We're having fun. We just want to go out there, play hockey, do the right things and I think it will take care of itself."

Check out Dave's story for more, including veteran wisdom from Brian Boyle. (link to https://www.nhl.com/news/toronto-maple-leafs-confident-theyll-make-stanley-cup-playoffs/c-288545352 )

1:25 p.m.
Five reasons the Senators are in the playoffs

Why did the Ottawa Senators make the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a roster similar to the one that finished eight points out last season?

LNH.com Managing Editor Arpon Basu looks at five reasons, among them the outstanding play of defenseman Erik Karlsson, Mike Condon's strong work in goal while starter Craig Anderson was with his wife during her cancer treatments and coach Guy Boucher's insistence that his players play the right way every game.

Those factors kept the Senators from going into major slumps; they never went more than three straight games without a point.

[Related: Five reasons the Ottawa Senators clinched]

 

11:55 a.m.
One game but lots at stake

After 11 of 13 games Thursday had playoff implications, there's only one game Friday. But for the Tampa Bay Lightning, it's their season.

The Lightning play at the Canadiens and must win to keep their playoff hopes alive. They are three points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card from the Eastern Conference with two games remaining.

Making it tough for Tampa Bay could be the absence of center Tyler Johnson, who sat out their 4-1 win against at the Maple Leafs on Thursday because of a lower-body injury. Johnson couldn't do much during a light workout Friday.

Tweet from @ArponBasu: Tyler Johnson left the ice having done no drills and just taking some shots on an empty net by himself. If he couldn't do light drills...

With the way the Lightning have been decimated by injuries this season, it's remarkable they've gotten this far. But as coach Jon Cooper said earlier in the week, "I could sit here and say it's a great moral victory, but moral victories don't mean anything if we don't get into the playoffs." 

 

10:52 a.m.
Big loss for Ducks

The Anaheim Ducks moved a step closer to winning the Pacific Division for the fifth straight season on Thursday, but also got a bit of bad news.

Defenseman Cam Fowler is expected to be out 2-6 weeks because of a knee injury sustained in the third period of a 4-1 win against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday.

Ducks general manager Bob Murray is trying to stay positive and is hoping Fowler will be back in two weeks.

"It could come around really quickly," he said of Fowler's recovery. "It's a different type of injury. It's the way the knee on knee hit."

Fowler arguably has been the Ducks' best defenseman this season. His 11 goals are a personal NHL best and his 39 points are one fewer than he had as a rookie in 2010-11. He's also plus-7 while averaging a team-high 24:50 per game.

The Ducks already are missing Hampus Lindholm but are lucky to have tremendous depth at San Diego of the American Hockey League. It's never ideal to thrust rookies into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour are quality replacements, and Jaycob Megna made his NHL debut Thursday.

It won't be ideal, but the Ducks could be OK without Fowler.

 

9:45 a.m.
Senators clinch, Maple Leafs have to wait

The Ottawa Senators got the win they needed to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Thursday, but the Toronto Maple Leafs will have to wait for their chance.

The Senators needed just one point against the Boston Bruins to reach the postseason, but got two when Kyle Turris scored in the shootout.

The Maple Leafs needed to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, but all they could get was Nazem Kadri's second-period goal in a 4-1 loss.

Let's take a look at how a busy night leaves things as we enter the final weekend of the regular season:

Ottawa Senators 2, Boston Bruins 1 (SO) -- Alexandre Burrows' unassisted goal 7:37 into the second period tied the game for the Senators, Ottawa was assured of a playoff berth when the game was tied after 60 minutes, but Turris scored in the first round of the shootout and goaltender Craig Anderson stopped David Pastrnak in the third round for the victory. The win put the Senators one point ahead of the Bruins for second place in the Atlantic Division with one game in hand.

Pittsburgh Penguins 7, New Jersey Devils 4 -- The Penguins got seven goals, none was scored by Sidney Crosby, the NHL leader. Crosby did have two assists to move into a tie for second in the Art Ross Trophy race with 88 points, nine behind the Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid. The win also assured the Penguins of the home-ice advantage in their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who lost to the Winnipeg Jets.

New York Islanders 3, Carolina Hurricanes 0 -- Jaroslav Halak had his first NHL shutout since Dec. 1, and thanks to the Maple Leafs' loss, the Islanders' playoff hopes remain alive. They're three points behind the Maple Leafs with two games remaining.

Winnipeg Jets 5, Columbus Blue Jackets 4 -- The Blue Jackets rallied from a 3-1 deficit to go into the third period tied, but allowed goals to the Jets' Jacob Trouba and Bryan Little in the first half of the third. Boone Jenner's goal with six minutes left got them within one, but that was as close as they could get.

Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Toronto Maple Leafs 1 -- Rookie center Brayden Point scored two goals to help the Lightning stay alive in the playoff race. The Lightning, who play at the Montreal Canadiens on Friday, are three points behind the Maple Leafs with two games remaining. Down one goal entering the third period and needing a win to clinch their first playoff berth since 2013, the Maple Leafs managed five shots on goal.

St. Louis Blues 6, Florida Panthers 3 -- The Blues solidified their hold on third place in the Central Division and stayed one point ahead of the Nashville Predators with one game in hand. Patrik Berglund, Alex Pietrangelo and Jaden Schwartz scored in the final 9:23 of the third period to break open a 3-3 game.

Nashville Predators 7, Dallas Stars 3 -- Viktor Arvidsson scored two goals in the first period and the Predators led 5-0 on Harry Zolnierczyk's goal 1:06 into the second. The win kept alive their chance of hopping into third in the Central, but they're one point behind the Blues, who have one game in hand.

Video: Smith, Arvidsson tally twice to lead Preds past Stars

Minnesota Wild 4, Colorado Avalanche 3 -- Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund scored in the third period to break a 2-2 tie. The Wild have won three in a row for the first time since Jan. 24-31. They also matched team records with 48 wins and 104 points, set in 2006-07.

Anaheim Ducks 4, Chicago Blackhawks 0 -- John Gibson made 37 saves and the Ducks inched closer to winning the Pacific Division for a fifth straight season. Rickard Rakell had a goal and an assist against a Blackhawks team that was resting forwards Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, as well as defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

Calgary Flames 4, Los Angeles Kings 1 -- The Flames scored three times in the second period to pull away from a 1-1 tie and maintain their lead for the first wild card from the West. The Flames and Predators each have 94 points with one game remaining, but the Flames have a 41-39 lead in regulation/overtime wins. Goalie Jon Gillies, 23, made 27 saves to win his NHL debut.

Edmonton Oilers 4, San Jose Sharks 2 -- Connor McDavid scored his 30th goal and Milan Lucic had a natural hat trick in the third period to keep the Oilers' chances of winning the Pacific Division alive. They're four points behind the Ducks with two games remaining, and have one game in hand. Edmonton also took a two-point lead with one game in hand on the Sharks for second place and home-ice advantage in their potential Western Conference First Round series.

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