The Tampa Bay Lightning are currently the next team in line to clinch a playoff berth in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. They will play host to the team that likely be their first round opponent in the first round of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will travel into the Saint Pete Times Forum for last regular season meeting between the two teams. The home team has currently won each game in the series but the Penguins mauled the Bolts in the two games at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
The Lightning recorded a 5-3 victory on Oct. 27 in Tampa, but Pittsburgh responded with a pair of blowouts in the Steel City. The Pens outscored Tampa Bay 13-2 over the two games. Marc-Andre Fleury has a 2.01 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in three starts against the Lightning this season.
After splitting a weekend series against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Bolts have now won two in a row after a 5-2 pasting over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night. The win over Ottawa marked stopped two game losing streak to the worst team in the NHL’s eastern Conference.
Tonight’s game is a big game contest for Tampa Bay. Pittsburgh would be their opponent in the four versus five matchup to open the playoffs. After taking a whipping in the last two games at the hands of the Penguins, the Lightning want to prove they are up to the challenge that the Penguins will present once the playoffs begin.
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma has to be considered the leading candidate for coach of the year after what he has done with the Penguins following injuries to their two biggest stars. The Penguins have been without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for almost the entire second half of the season.
The Penguins will topple 100 points this season and will have done so with many players from their AHL team, The Wilkes-Barre Scranton (little) Penguins.
While Malkin is done for the season, there is optimism that Crosby could still return. Crosby is scheduled to begin morning skates with the Pens today but GM Fred Shero still warns Sidney Crosby while this might have raised hope No. 87 could be back in the lineup by the time the puck drops on Game 1 of the postseason, Shero clarified that Crosby has not been cleared for full practices with the team. He said there was still no timetable for the superstar’s return.
Shero added that while he did not want to kill anyone’s optimism, it could very well be that Crosby does not return to the lineup until next season.
Vincent Lecavalier continues to play a solid second half as he has two goals and five assists during a five-game point’s streak for the Lightning. Simon Gagne (4-2-6) and Martin St. Louis (3-3-6) have three-game point’s streaks going. After a two-goal performance against the Senators, Dominic Moore has four goals in as many games.
The Lightning could have clinched a playoff berth with a Carolina loss to the Canadians last evening but the Canes trounced Montreal 6-2. The Lightning can clinch the berth themselves by simply taking care of the Penguins tonight.