There will be no playoff hockey for the Winnipeg Jets or Tampa Bay Lightning, but these clubs have more to play for in Saturday night's season finale than trying to avoid a last-place finish in the Southeast Division.
While the Jets try to end their first season in Winnipeg on a positive note and avoid a fourth straight home loss, the Lightning would like to see Steven Stamkos become just the second player in 15 seasons to record 60 goals.
The Jets - Winnipeg's first NHL team in 15 years - had the division lead following a 4-3 victory over Tampa Bay in its last visit Feb. 23, but their playoff hopes were dashed with a 5-8-1 record since March 7.
Winnipeg (37-35-9) did pick up five of a possible eight points during a road trip which ended with Thursday's 5-4 loss to the New York Islanders. Coach Claude Noel, though, would like to see his team get off to a better start after getting outscored 7-3 in the first period during that four-game trek.
"It's disrespectful the way we start games," Noel said after his team fell behind 2-0 midway through the first period Thursday. "Yes we battled back, but we shouldn't have had to."
The Jets have dropped a season-high three consecutive home games but are 23-13-4 at the MTS Centre, including 2-0 against Tampa Bay.
"This first season back in Winnipeg was a blast," defenseman Tobias Enstrom said Thursday after scoring a goal and setting up another.
The Jets have one more point than Tampa Bay and Carolina, but they'll finish last in the division if they lose in regulation and the Hurricanes defeat Florida on Saturday.
The Lightning (37-36-8) know what it's like to drop in the standings after being one win away from the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.
Tampa Bay lost its fourth straight road game Thursday, 3-2 in overtime to Toronto, but Stamkos extended his team record with his league-high 59th goal. It is the highest goal total since Washington's Alex Ovechkin scored 65 in 2007-08.
"Whether it's 59 or 60, it doesn't make a difference in the quality of the player," coach Guy Boucher said.
Stamkos has team highs of three goals and eight points versus Winnipeg in 2011-12, including his NHL record-setting fifth OT goal of the season in last Saturday's 3-2 home victory. His 19 goals and 15 assists versus the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers franchise are both easily his most against any opponent.
Stamkos has 96 points and needs four more to pass Martin St. Louis (2010-11) for the third-highest single-season total in team history.
If goaltender Dwayne Roloson gets the start Saturday, it could be the last time he appears in a Lightning sweater, or in the NHL. The 42-year-old netminder is 1-1-0 with a 1.88 goals-against average in three games - two starts - against Winnipeg in 2011-12.
Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec should be in net Saturday after Chris Mason got the nod Thursday. Pavelec, one win shy of 30, has started all five games against Tampa Bay this season. His 30 saves in a 5-2 home win over the Lightning on Nov. 14 helped the Jets franchise end a 12-game skid in this series.
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Winnipeg Jets
- Tampa Bay
- Steven Stamkos