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Playoff picture: Lightning in East conversation

Tampa Bay, Islanders, Maple Leafs all within one point of second wild-card spot @NHLdotcom

The NHL regular season ends Sunday, April 9. Here is a look at the Stanley Cup Playoff picture with less than a month to go.  

The Tampa Bay Lightning are now among three teams within one point of each other in the race for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

The Lightning defeated the Ottawa Senators, 2-1, in overtime on Tuesday to move into a points tie (77) with the New York Islanders for the second wild card. The Islanders, who rallied for a 3-2 overtime win at the Carolina Hurricanes, have more wins in regulation than the Lightning (32-30).

The Islanders and Lightning met in the second round of the playoffs last season; Tampa Bay won in five games.

Tampa Bay's place in the playoff picture is a bit surprising. Before the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline, the Lightning sent No. 1 goalie Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings, center Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs and center Valtteri Filppula to the Philadelphia Flyers. Also, the Lightning are missing several injured players, including Steven Stamkos.

The Islanders and Lightning jumped past the Toronto Maple Leafs (76 points), who were defeated by the Florida Panthers, 7-2. Toronto is trying to make the postseason for the first time since 2013.

Video: TBL@OTT: Hedman drills home OT winner from Palat

The winner of the second wild card will play the top seed in the East. The Washington Capitals, with the help of Alex Ovechkin's first goal since Feb. 19, defeated the Minnesota Wild, 4-2, to take a two-point lead on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the race for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference.

Meanwhile, the Wild loss allowed the Chicago Blackhawks, who defeated the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2, to move into first place in the Central Division and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Minnesota had been in first place since Jan. 14.

If the season ended today, the Blackhawks would play the St. Louis Blues in the first round. The Blues defeated the Blackhawks in a seven-game first-round series last season. The teams also met in the first round in 2014; Chicago won in six games.

Here is the playoff bracket entering play on March 15.

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