The Tampa Bay Lightning remain mathematically alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race but are holding on for dear life.
While captain Vincent Lecavalier's expected return to the lineup should provide a spark, Tampa Bay may have already run out of time to make a run.
Looking to bounce back from a deflating loss, the visiting Lightning square off against a New Jersey Devils team hoping to clinch a postseason berth Thursday night.
Sitting in an 11th-place tie with 77 points, Tampa Bay (35-34-7) remains nine behind eighth-place Buffalo with just six games to play. After winning three in a row, the Lightning saw their faint postseason hopes take a potentially critical blow with Tuesday's 5-2 loss at Boston despite Steven Stamkos scoring his NHL-leading and team-record 54th and 55th goals.
"I think that's the best we could do (Tuesday). Get a day rest (Wednesday) and try to get something in Jersey," coach Guy Boucher said. "We'll continue fighting. We're in learning mode. We're in fighting mode."
The Lightning have been without several key pieces for a while now - most notably Lecavalier, who's missed the last 18 games with a non-displaced fracture in his right hand. Lecavalier has notched 21 goals and 25 assists in 58 games this season and should give the desperate Lightning a boost.
"No one is giving up," said Stamkos, who has tallied nine goals and seven assists in his last 12 meetings with New Jersey. "Guys have gotten called up from the American League and are stepping up and trying to prove that they can be an everyday NHL player and that's all we can ask from them."
After missing out on the playoffs last season for the first time since 1995-96, New Jersey (43-28-6) can lock up a spot Thursday. The sixth-place Devils, sitting eight points in front of ninth-place Washington, can assure themselves of getting in with at least one point and a Capitals' regulation loss in Boston on Thursday night.
A win and a Washington loss beyond regulation would also put the Devils in.
New Jersey regrouped from a 1-3-1 stretch and improved to 5-1-1 over its last seven home games with Tuesday's 2-1 shootout win over Chicago.
"I think it was huge," said Petr Sykora, who scored in regulation. "I don't think it was one of our best games but I think it's the best two points we got. It's a cushion right now and we'll take two points any way we can."
Tampa Bay had dropped five of six to the Devils before winning 4-3 at the Prudential Center on Feb. 26 behind three goals and an assist from St. Louis.
After going 0-3-1 with a 3.95 goals-against average over his previous four contests, New Jersey's Martin Brodeur had 37 saves versus the Blackhawks. Brodeur has compiled a 1.66 GAA in starting each of the Devils' last seven home games.
The NHL's all-time leader in wins and shutouts is 10-2-0 with a 2.14 GAA in his last 12 starts in this series even after making just 12 saves on 16 shots in last month's loss.
Roloson has posted a 2.94 GAA in starting each of Tampa Bay's last four games. Roloson, who is 0-1-0 with a 5.29 GAA in two starts versus the Devils this season, is 1-3-0 despite recording a 1.87 GAA in five career appearances in New Jersey.
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Tampa Bay
- Vincent Lecavalier
- New Jersey Devils
- New Jersey