As Montreal arrives at Amalie Arena for Saturday night’s Atlantic Division showdown, Tampa Bay hopes the Canadiens will have a little less drive in their game in order for the Lightning to keep driving toward the final playoff spot.
And Tampa Bay hopes to be a bit more healthy than for Thursday’s game against Detroit when the Lightning were without Nikita Kucherov, who was unable to play because of illness, to join Tyler Johnson and Steven Stamkos on the sideline.
There’s a chance all three could be back in the Tampa Bay lineup against Montreal.
“We need to get some rest and hopefully we can get some guys back,” Lightning forward Alex Killorn said. “But Montreal is our focus right now. We are excited to play a Montreal team that we have created a little bit of a rivalry with.”
Tampa Bay enters the game in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, three points behind the Boston Bruins for the second wild-card spot. The Lightning are also four points behind Toronto for the third spot in the Atlantic Division standings.
Should either Stamkos, out since Nov. 15, or Johnson, out since March 9, be able to return to the lineup, it would offer a big boost and possibly serve as the extra push the team needs to keep the season alive in the final six games of the regular season.
Stamkos is now considered day to day, with a return by the weekend expected. Johnson joined the team for the morning skate on Thursday and could be on the verge of a return.
“It’s been one of those ones where it was slow at the beginning and now it’s going fast, so it’s good,” Johnson said. “It’s inspiring to see the way the guys have been playing but tough having to watch it and not to be out there and not be able to contribute. Especially this time of the season where we’re at. Every game matters and every point matters.”
While the points may not matter to the Canadiens right now, they want to continue to play as if something is on the line, with their sights set on clinching another division title.
“It’s always nice to get that first goal accomplished and know that we’re in the dance,” goaltender Carey Price said. “We’ve got to keep moving forward, obviously we’re not satisfied yet. We’ve got a few games remaining and we’ve got to keep building on what we’ve accomplished over the last few weeks, and keep rounding our game out and keep preparing.”
There are also areas that Montreal wants to keep finding ways to improve on and tighten up in the final week.
“We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, but now we’ve got to get down and try and clean up a couple of areas of our game that we know will make us successful in the playoffs,” Montreal captain Max Pacioretty said. “And it’s a good time for everyone to feel good about their game and we hope to go into the playoffs with some momentum.”