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NHL Insider

Lightning ready to make push for playoffs

Center Tyler Johnson likely to return when Tampa Bay resumes play Saturday after break

by Corey Long / Correspondent

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning come out of their six-day break with five games in 10 days and the need to make a move in the Eastern Conference standings.

With 26 games remaining, the Lightning (25-24-7) are six points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the East. They are seven points behind the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division.

Tampa Bay resumes play with back-to-back road games against the Dallas Stars on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; FS-SW, SUN, NHL.TV) and the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday. The Lightning went 3-0-1 in four games leading up to the break, outscoring their opponents 12-4 in regulation, including a 4-1 win at the Winnipeg Jets last Saturday.

"It's urgency time now for us," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said Friday. "We had some good things going before the break and now we have to continue with that."

Tampa Bay should come out of the break a healthier team. Center Tyler Johnson was a full participant in practice Friday and should be able to play Saturday after missing two games with a lower-body injury.

"We'll see how it feels [Saturday]," Johnson said. "I didn't feel ready to play [last week], so luckily the break came at a good time."

Video: OTT@TBL: Johnson capitalizes on turnover in close

For other players, the time off provided a chance to refresh and gear up for playing their final 26 games over 51 days. The remaining schedule includes six sets of back-to-backs, five of them on the road. Tampa Bay is 8-7-5 in 10 sets of back-to-back games this season; 6-3-1 in first games but 2-4-4 in second games.

"It's a tough schedule, but you can look ahead and we just have to worry about ourselves," goaltender Ben Bishop said. "We're playing a couple of teams that haven't been playing so well. If we just play our game, play a team game, the points will come."

Defenseman Victor Hedman said the break was probably a good thing after the Lightning played a solid stretch of hockey. They went into the break upbeat but with the mindset that there's work left to be done.

"It's been a very long year with the World Cup [of Hockey 2016] and we've had a tough season, so to get a couple of days to clear your mind is good," Hedman said. "We all did what we needed to do to stay in shape, and now we can get back to work and think about what we need to do this weekend."

Video: BUF@TBL: Hedman finds Kucherov to extend Bolts' lead

Before the break, the Lightning were starting to get the goaltending they had been expecting all season. Bishop won his past three starts and had a .961 save percentages in those games. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 10. Each goalie is likely to start this weekend. 

"We've started playing a lot better in front of them and they are making all of the saves right now," Hedman said. "It goes hand and hand and we're fortunate to have both of those guys back there and making the plays when we need them."

Video: TBL@WPG: Bishop makes an athletic glove save

Cooper said when each of the goalies is on his game it energizes the locker room.

"They have been our two best players," Cooper said. "Anytime we have broken down as a team they have been there to bail us out, and right now we need them to be as good as they have been."

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