With just 17 games left in the 2016-17 NHL season, the Tampa Bay Lightning (30-26-9) continue their desperate climb to claim a much sought after spot in the playoffs. In order to do that, they’ll still need to leap frog a handful of teams in the Eastern Conference. In this point of the season, the Lightning will need several moving parts to make this happen, but the only one they can control is their ability to win. They’ll have chances to do that against the Minnesota Wild (42-16-6) and Florida Panthers (29-25-11) this week. Let’s take a look at the week ahead with Crashing The Net!
Ottawa Senators (37-22-6)
When: Monday, February 27th – 7:30PM
Shots: 40-34 OTT
Power Play: 3/3
Penalty Kill: 4/5
Key Moment: Nikita Kucherov is all you need to know about this one. The Russian Specialist netted three power play goals all from the same spot with a one-timer. That’s not that’s great you say? Well, what if I told you he did it all in the second period? Yes he did. The Senators could not stop him and this effort, combined with solid night from goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, locked in the win for the home team.
Carolina Hurricanes (26-27-10)
When: Wednesday, March 1st – 7:00PM
Shots: 31-16 CAR
Power Play: 1/4
Penalty Kill: 1/2
Key Moment: Despite being outshot by such a large margin, the Lightning stayed in the game thanks to their star defenseman, Victor Hedman. The Big Swede opened the scoring in the first period and ended it in overtime with a thrilling game-winner.
Pittsburgh Penguins (41-16-6)
When: Friday, March 3rd – 7:00PM
Shots: 35-29 PIT
Power Play: 1/3
Penalty Kill: 1/3
Key Moment: Down 2-1 entering the third, Kucherov scored his 28th of the season and tied it up for the Bolts. However, newly-acquired defenseman Mark Streit answered back for the Penguins and the wheels on the Lightning’s wagon broke off as they were thumped in the third and lost 5-2.
Buffalo Sabres (27-28-12)
When: Saturday, March 4th – 7:00PM
Power Play: 0/2
Penalty Kill: 2/3
Key Moment: Part Vasilevskiy brilliance, part Kucherov trickery would steal the moment on this one. Vasilevskiy produced another fine outing, keeping the Lightning in this one when the action became rough. Kucherov would shine in the shootout with some trickery that fooled just about everyone watching, giving the Bolts the victory.
New York Rangers (43-22-2)
When: Monday, March 6th – 7:30PM
Result: OT Loss
Shots: 38-34 TBL
Power Play: 0/6
Penalty Kill: 0/3
Key Moment: Neither goaltender was giving it up on Monday night. Antti Raanta and Vasilevskiy both put forth highlight reel performances that took this one to a breakaway in overtime. I award both of these goalies with the key moment(s) on this one.
Lightning Statistics From Last Week:
Games Played: 5
Losses: 2 (1 in OT)
Points: 7 out of 10
Goals For: 13
Goals Allowed: 11
Power Play: 5/18 = 27.7%
Penalty Kill: 8/16 = 50.0%
Minnesota Wild (42-16-6)
Where: Amalie Arena, Florida
When: Thursday, March 9th – 7:30PM
Where to Watch: SunS, FSNO
On Thursday night, the Lightning face the best team in the Western Conference as far as standings are concerned. The Minnesota Wild have accrued 90 points so far this season and have terrorized the Central Division. Tampa Bay is hoping to catch them while sleeping as the Wild have recently lost two games in regulation which is something they haven’t done in months. These two teams have met once this season and it was a thrilling contest that was decided in a shootout with Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu (18G, 31A) playing the hero. I had to swallow hard when I pulled up the Wild’s statistics because they are top ten in key factors such as goals scored, GAA, power play, and penalty kill. This will undoubtedly be a big test for the Lightning.
When a team is successful on so many aspects of the game of hockey, you have to look out for every player on their roster. Each person in a green sweater needs to be considered a threat. If one had to pick two guys who maybe are pulling a little more than their weight, you would look at Mikael Granlund (21G, 39A) and goaltender Devan Dubnyk (35W, 2.01 GAA, .933 Sv%). Granlund has claimed 60 points already this season and is a large component on Minnesota’s knack for moving the puck. Dubnyk has been consistently solid in net since coming to the Wild and taking them to the playoffs in his first season-and-a-half with Minnesota. The only thing the Lightning can do here is play hard and try to create lots of garbage in front of the Minnesota net. This effort cannot be anything less than the full 60 minutes or Tampa Bay will watch two valuable points fall to the wayside.
Florida Panthers (29-25-11)
Where: Amalie Arena, Florida
When: Saturday, March 11th – 7:00PM
Where to Watch: SunS, FSFL
The Lightning end their week against the in-state rival Florida Panthers. The Panthers are tied with the Bolts at 69 points on the season and are one of the many teams trying to catch a playoff spot. These teams battle every year for the Governor’s Cup and it’s a spectacle to behold. Each game is hard-fought and promises fireworks. So far the Florida teams have faced off three times and the Panthers lead the Lightning 2-1-0 in the season series. On Saturday night, Tampa Bay not only hopes to gain separation from Florida in the point race, but to play the villain and take the Governor’s Cup from the Panthers’ waiting hands with a split of the series. This is the time for them to do it against Florida because the Panthers are entrenched in a seven game slump that has seen them claim victory once. Not only that, but the they will be playing Minnesota the night before, so look for Tampa Bay to bring on some extra energy to tire them out.
Taking a statistical approach to the Panthers shows us that they are within the league’s average in shooting, goals allowed, and discipline. The only two abnormalities are their declining numbers in scoring and a penalty kill that is best in the league. The goal differential between the three meetings for Tampa Bay and Florida this season have all been fairly even so the mindset that the Lightning need to bring tonight is that of a predator attacking it’s prey. The Lightning are a desperate team and they’ll need to play like the Cats are their last meal to pull this one off.
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