Lightning need win over Coyotes to keep hope alive

The Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. -- After clawing their way back into position for the last wild card in the Eastern Conference, the Tampa Bay Lightning have lost two straight at home, so there is even more urgency headed into their Tuesday home game against the Arizona Coyotes.

At Amalie Arena, facing the second-worst team in the NHL, it is a must-win as Tampa Bay works to keep its playoff hopes alive. The Lightning trail the Toronto Maple Leafs by four points with 11 games to play.

"There's a lot of fight left in the dog," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after Monday's practice, preparing for the final stretch of the regular season. "Maybe there's a little fear factor (of not making the playoffs) setting in, and maybe that can be a little added incentive to win (Tuesday) night."

Tampa Bay (34-28-9) had gone 12-2-3 over 17 games to climb back into the playoffs, but a 5-0 loss to Toronto on Saturday and a 5-3 loss to Washington on Saturday have them again on the outside looking in.

The New York Islanders are also a point ahead of the Lightning in a three-way battle for the last Eastern Conference playoff spot.

"Ultimately, we have to win now," Cooper said. "We've lost our last two. (Tuesday's) game is pivotal for us."

The Lightning are still hopeful to get back star center Steven Stamkos, who continues to practice with the team but has missed more than four months with a knee injury he sustained in November. Cooper would only say Monday, "Every day he comes off with no setbacks (is) a really good sign."

They face an Arizona team that is ranks 27th out of 30 teams in goals (2.3), goals against (3.2), power play (14.6 percent) and penalty kill (77.5 percent). The Coyotes beat the Lightning 5-3 during a January stretch in which Tampa Bay went 3-9-2.

Making things even easier for the Lightning is the fact that Arizona (26-37-9) is coming off a Monday night game at Nashville, where the Coyotes lost 3-1 to the Predators. The Lightning have had two full days of rest since their loss to the Capitals.

Arizona was officially eliminated from playoff contention Monday by dropping its third straight, a stretch that began with a 5-4 shootout defeat to the Detroit Red Wings and continued with a 3-0 setback against the St. Louis Blues. Prior to the current skid, the Coyotes won three games in a row, matching their best streak of the season.

On Monday, the Coyotes fell behind the Predators 3-0 before Oliver Ekman-Larsson registered a power-play goal with 3:55 remaining.

"We couldn't seem to get anything going through the middle," Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. "We have another chance to redeem ourselves tomorrow. We didn't get the start to the road trip that we wanted, but hopefully, we can come out with a better effort tomorrow."

Michalek and center Laurent Dauphin were called up Sunday from AHL Tucson on Sunday. Michalek played 15:55 at Nashville, ending up with an even rating, while Dauphin was a healthy scratch.

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