While their postseason seeding remains uncertain in a competitive Central Division, the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning enter the regular season stretch run with a playoff berth all but sewn up.
Tampa Bay (32-14-2, 66 points) trimmed its magic number to two with Sunday’s 4-3 overtime victory against the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets. The Lightning will aim for their fourth victory in five games when they visit the slumping Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday night.
“I like the way the guys are working,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “We just want to finish strong. We just want to keep doing the right things here and see what happens.”
Victor Hedman scored 10 seconds into overtime Sunday to lift the Lightning, who have defeated Chicago in six of seven meetings this season. Tampa Bay trails the division-leading Carolina Hurricanes by two points and the second-place Florida Panthers by one point.
Tampa Bay’s top line of Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Alex Barre-Boulet continues to thrive. On Sunday, Palat netted the first goal for the Lightning, Barre-Boulet scored on the power play for his first NHL goal, and Point contributed three assists to match a season high.
“They’re world-class players, Pointer and Pally,” Hedman said. “Pally showed it in the playoffs. He was one of the main reasons we went that far, and he’s carried that over to the regular season. Pointer is just who he is, buzzing around out there and making some great plays. BB has fit in well. He reads the game very well and knows where to be on the ice, and the other guys like to play with him. It’s a good match.”
Of Tampa Bay’s eight remaining games, five are on the road, including a pair against Florida to close the regular season.
With eight games remaining entering the week, the Blackhawks (22-21-5, 49 points) sit sixth in the Central Division, five points back of the fourth-place Nashville Predators, who earned five of a possible six points against the Blackhawks last week.
While Chicago has seen its playoff hopes flicker with losses in three of the past five games, the Blackhawks have remained competitive down the stretch behind a prolific penalty kill.
Chicago has killed its past 17 power plays and 29 of the last 32 opponent man-advantages dating to March 24.
“That’s definitely a positive as we play the big games,” Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. “The special teams are a big part of it. So (while the) power play hasn’t been as good lately, the PK has picked up the slack in a lot of ways.”
More than a lineup change — Ryan Carpenter, Duncan Keith, David Kampf and Connor Murphy remain the top penalty kill unit — the Blackhawks credit tactical tweaks for their turnaround.
Assistant coach Sheldon Brookbank is responsible for the penalty kill.
“We continued to look at video, and (Brookbank) does a great job of showing us things every day to get ready and match up against certain teams,” Murphy said.
–Field Level Media