Before the CBJ puck drops: Tampa Bay Lightning
GAME 81: Tampa Bay Lightning
44-27-9 — 3rd place in the Atlantic Division
5-3-2 in last 10 games
Goals for: 2.86 goals/game – 8th in the NHL
Goals against: 2.59 goals/game – 12th
Goals for: 2.76 goals/game – 12th in the NHL
Goals against: 2.61 goals/game – 14th
SINCE WE LAST MET (on Jan. 13):
The Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-2, at Nationwide Arena back in mid-January. The CBJ also downed the Bolts, 1-0, at Nationwide back at the beginning of December. Columbus has won the season series, but this is the final game of their three-game series this season.
I’m not going to pin the Lightning’s losing performances against the Blue Jackets on a single person, but it is worth pointing out that all-world forward Steven Stamkos broke his leg in November and only returned to the ice at the beginning of March. He wasn’t present for the two Blue Jackets games, but he’ll be playing tonight. And unlike Columbus’ Nathan Horton, who had abdominal surgery this morning after returning midseason from significant shoulder surgery, Stamkos appears to have recovered just fine, thank you. Stamkos has 11 goals (including a hat trick) and 6 assists for 17 total points in 18 games played since returning to the Lightning roster. Consider that the first couple of games were probably glorified rehabilitation outings, and you’ve got yourself over a point a game from Stamkos. His presence will certainly be felt tonight.
Someone whose presence likely will not be felt, however, is goaltender Ben Bishop, who fell on his wrist on Tuesday night in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs and had to be helped from the ice. The towering (6′ 7", 214 lbs.) Bishop has been a monster in the net for Tampa Bay – 63 starts, 37-14-7 record, 2.23 goals against average and a .924 save percentage – and the team probably owes its playoff life to the man. There’s been no formal announcement as I type, but it’s presumed that Bishop will be out tonight.
Top scorers in Tampa are:
– Forward Valterri Filppula (25 goals, 33 assists, 58 points)
– Forward Ondrej Palat (22 G, 36 A, 58 pts.)
– Defenseman Victor Hedman (13 G, 42 A, 55 pts.)
– Forward Tyler Johnson (24 G, 26 A, 50 pts.)
– Forward Teddy Purcell (12 G, 30 A, 42 pts.)
Keep in mind, Stamkos has only played in 35 games this season. He has 25 goals, 15 assists and 40 points. In 35 games. Yow.
Backup goalie Anders Lindback is projected to get the start tonight with the injury to Bishop. In 17 starts, Lindback is 7-12-2 with a 3.05 goals against average and a .888 save percentage. Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman has been applying the "wet noodle" theory of continually throwing different goaltenders into net until one sticks, and Lindback was one of those noodles that apparently didn’t stick. Bishop followed Lindback, and he stuck. I think that tells us what we need to know about Lindback.
WHY THIS GAME IS IMPORTANT:
When you’ve qualified for the playoffs – and congratulations to the CBJ having done that on Wednesday night in Dallas – what else is there to play for? Why, playoff seeding!
By having sealed up an Eastern Conference wild card slot, the Blue Jackets no longer have to win to fend off the likes of Washington and New Jersey. Now, they have to win to improve their position. Columbus has 91 points, but so does Philadelphia and Detroit. By virtue of having the tiebreak, Columbus can finish no worse than the top wild card seed (meaning a first-round playoff series against Pittsburgh) as long as Detroit doesn’t overtake Columbus in standings points. If Detroit happens to push Columbus into the bottom wild card, they will play Boston.
The Flyers have one more regulation/overtime win than Columbus, however, so Philly gets the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. As it stands, the Flyers will play the New York Rangers. Both Philadelphia and Columbus (and Detroit) have two games left, so a couple Columbus wins combined with anything less than two Philadelphia wins means that Columbus will be playing the Rangers rather than the Bruins or Penguins.
Lots to play for, indeed (And there will be a quiz on this during the first intermission tonight).
WHO I’LL BE WATCHING:
Sergei Bobrovsky helmed the Blue Jackets to the playoffs, and he’s got to be tired. So he gets the night off.
Curtis McElhinney gets the start in net as a result. McElhinney has played reasonably well of late when thrown into the fire, and he’ll be sorely tested by Steven Stamkos. The potential for letdown is real considering that the team finally qualified for the playoffs, and McElhinney will need to be stout to protect against that.
YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION:
FOX SPORTS OHIO IS BROADCASTING THREE MAJOR LEAGUE GAMES TONIGHT. YOU NEED TO CLICK ON THIS LINK TO LEARN HOW AND WHERE THE BLUE JACKETS GAME WILL BE BROADCAST IN YOUR AREA.
Lots of Blue Jackets pre-playoff goodness for you tonight, so tune in and see:
– Brian Giesenschlag and Dan Kamal bring you the "Blue Jackets Live Pregame" with the late-breaking news and info, as well as a full preview of the game, at 7 p.m.
– The puck drops in Tampa at 7:30 p.m., with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge on the call.
– Brian and Dan return immediately following for "Blue Jackets Live Postgame" with postgame interviews, insight and analysis.
Two more games to determine our playoff dance partner…exciting times! Go Jackets!