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Sport Push For The Playoffs: Rest, getting healthy are keys for Lightning right now

15:40  02 may  2021
15:40  02 may  2021 Source:   nbcsports.com

Blue Jackets-Lightning stream: Sunday’s NHL on NBCSN matchup

  Blue Jackets-Lightning stream: Sunday’s NHL on NBCSN matchup Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.Defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay is firmly in the top three of the Central Division standings with nine games left on its regular season schedule. The Lightning, which has yet to secure a playoff spot, trail Central-leading Carolina by four points. They enter Sunday’s contest against Columbus having alternated wins and losses in each of their last six games (3-3-0). The Blue Jackets were eliminated from playoff contention with the loss.

  Push For The Playoffs: Rest, getting healthy are keys for Lightning right now © Getty

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2020-21 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

The Lightning are in a unique spot right now where they have very little to play for in their remaining five regular season games.

Their playoff spot has long been clinched.

They also already seem to be locked into their opening round matchup and will almost certainly be playing for the Panthers. The Lightning, currently in the third spot in the Central Division, have a 13-point lead over the fourth place Predators and are four points back of the Hurricanes for first place. With the Hurricanes sitting in the driver’s seat for that top spot, the Panthers and Lightning seem to be on a collision course for the first round.

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The only thing that remains to be decided is which team gets home-ice advantage, and the Lightning seem to have the edge there right now. They only trail Florida by two points, still have two games in hand, and play the Panthers in back-to-back games to wrap up the regular season.

[Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Given all of that, the main concern for Tampa Bay right now is making sure their top players are rested and healthy for what could be another lengthy postseason appearance. They should have Steven Stamkos (who has missed most of April) and Nikita Kucherov (who has missed the entire regular season) back for the playoffs, adding two superstars to an already loaded lineup.

Beyond that, it would not hurt to start limiting some minutes for players like top defenseman Victor Hedman and starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

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Vasilevskiy in particular is a player that the Lightning should be watching. He has taken on an enormous workload the past couple of seasons, and he might be the most irreplaceable player on the roster. Since the start of the 2019-20 season the Lightning are just 12-13-4 in games where Vasilevskiy is not the goaltender of record. He played every minute of the playoffs during the Lightning Stanley Cup run a season ago, and he has already played 39 out of 50 games this season.

The Lightning game him the day off in Saturday’s 1-0 shootout loss to Detroit, and coach Jon Cooper would not commit to him starting on Sunday only to say they have “a plan” for how they want to handle his workload down the stretch.

That is smart. They are going to need him more in a couple of weeks than they do right now.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY (matchups by total points)

EAST DIVISION

1. Penguins vs. 4. Bruins

2. Capitals vs. 3. Islanders

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CENTRAL DIVISION

1. Hurricanes vs. 4. Predators

2. Panthers vs. 3 Lightning

NORTH DIVISION

1. Maple Leafs vs. 4. Canadiens

2. Oilers vs. 3. Jets

WEST DIVISION

1. Golden Knights vs. 4. Blues

2. Avalanche vs. 3. Wild

TODAY’S ONLY GAME

Lightning vs. Red Wings, 3 p.m. ET (NBC livestream)

  Push For The Playoffs: Rest, getting healthy are keys for Lightning right now © Provided by NBC Sports

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Capitals – Clinched

Penguins –

Clinched

Islanders – Clinched

Bruins – 99.98%

Rangers – 0%

Flyers – eliminated

Devils – eliminated

Sabres – eliminated

table © Provided by NBC Sports

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Hurricanes – Clinched

Panthers – Clinched

Lightning – Clinched

Predators – 82.2%

Stars – 17.8%

Blackhawks – 0%

Red Wings – eliminated

Blue Jackets – eliminated

table © Provided by NBC Sports

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Maple Leafs – Clinched

Oilers – 100%

Jets – 99.5%

Canadiens – 95.3%

Flames – 5%

Canucks – 0.2%

Senators – eliminated

table © Provided by NBC Sports

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Golden Knights – Clinched

Avalanche – Clinched

Wild – Clinched

Blues – 94%

Coyotes – 5.5%

Kings – 0.5%

Sharks – 0.1%

Ducks – eliminated

Gary Bettman et al. holding wine glasses: Getty Images © Getty Images Getty Images

DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE (via MoneyPuck)

Sabres – 18.5%

Ducks – 13%

Devils – 9.9%

Blue Jackets – 8.8%

Red Wings – 8.5%

Senators – 7.7%

Canucks – 6.6%

Sharks – 6.2%

Kings – 6%

Blackhawks – 3.6%

Coyotes – 3.1%

Flames – 2.6%

Flyers – 2.5%

Rangers – 1.2%

ART ROSS TROPHY RACE

Connor McDavid, Oilers – 87 points

Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 71

Mitch Marner, Maple Leafs – 64

Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 63

Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 62

Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 62

ROCKET RICHARD RACE

Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 38 goals

Connor McDavid, Oilers – 29

Mikko Rantanen, Avalanche – 28

Brad Marchand, Bruins – 27

Tyler Toffoli, Canadiens – 27

More NHL News

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Push For The Playoffs: Rest, getting healthy are keys for Lightning right now originally appeared on NBCSports.com

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