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Crashing The Net: The Final Stretch

With the playoffs right around the corner, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a lot of questions to answer.  Who will help take up the minutes normally given to Anton Stralman?  He has been ruled out indefinitely with a fractured fibula.  Who will step up in the absence of the Steven Stamkos?  He’s expected to be out for 1-3 months with a blood clot in his arm.  Will Tampa Bay call up Jonathan Drouin back up to the Lightning roster?  Are opponents worried about facing the Lightning in the playoffs?  The Lightning have four games left in the regular season. That is four games that Head Coach Jon Cooper has to answer these questions before the playoffs start.  Ben Bishop has had an outstanding year in net for Tampa Bay, but will it be enough to carry them deep into the playoffs?  Players have to rise to another level of play during the playoffs.  The Lightning may have to see that rise happen a week early.  Tampa Bay will have to address these questions soon if they plan on making another deep run in the postseason.

This week the Lightning will play the final four games of the regular season schedule and they will all be on the road.  Here is a breakdown of their opponents.

April 4 at New York Islanders

The New York Islanders are coming into this game with a chance to improve their position in the upcoming playoffs and make a move up from the first wild card spot.  As of now, they are two points behind the New York Rangers for third place in the Metropolitan Division.  The Islanders will be without key defenseman Travis Hamonic.  Hamonic sustained a lower body injury during Thursday night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.  If there is an advantage to be had by the Islanders in this game, it is from the power play.  Not only do the Islanders have a better power play percentage than Tampa Bay at 18.4%, which is 19th in the league, their penalty kill ranks second in the league at 84.8%.  This season series is split at one apiece.

April 5 at New York Rangers

The Rangers currently hold the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division.  However, they have dropped their last three games at a time in the season where every point is critical.  Eric Staal, Kevin Hayes, and Jesper Fast all seem to be playing well, unlike their power play, which has gone 1-for-9 in the last three games.  With a Rangers team that is healthy and a Lightning team that is decimated by injuries, this is a crucial game the Rangers need to increase their points and hold their playoff position.  This season series is tied at one apiece with Tampa Bay taking the first meeting in November by a 2-1 score, and the Rangers taking the second 5-2 in December.

April 7 at New Jersey Devils

This will be the fourth year in a row that New Jersey will not be in the playoffs. With not much to play for except pride, the Devils may be looking toward getting ready for next season.  A lack of goal scoring has been a huge problem for New Jersey, as they rank last in the NHL in goals scored.  The Lightning have won both times these two teams have met this season, a 4-0 shutout the first time and a 3-1 win just this past Saturday.  It was the first time the Devils’ All-Star goalie, Cory Schneider, had played after being out with an injury for the past month, making 33 saves.  New Jersey’s power play went 1-for-6 in that game, while the Lightning went 1-for-7.

April 9 at Montreal Canadiens

The Montreal Canadiens will join the rest of their fellow Canadian teams in watching the postseason rather than participating in it.  After starting the season on fire, Montreal has been bitten by the injury bug, in addition to playing very poorly since the beginning of December.  Key injuries to Carey Price, P.K. Subban, and Brendan Gallagher have exposed their lack of depth, which has really hurt them this season.  Despite all of this, they have still been able to beat the Lightning in each of their first three meetings this season, and with nothing but pride to play for, would like to make it 4-for-4 against Tampa Bay.  This game could make all the difference in whether or not the Lightning win the Atlantic Division or finish in second place.

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