Push for the Playoffs: Lightning continue chasing ’95-96 Red Wings

Sean Leahy
NBC Sports

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 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.

As the the Tampa Bay Lightning hold a 16-point lead on the San Jose Sharks with 12 games remaining, the Presidents’ Trophy is just about locked up. An historic regular season could be added to should they win a majority of the rest of their schedule.

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After the Presidents’ Trophy, next in the Lightning’s sights is the 62-win feat achieved by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings. It’s fitting that Tampa is in Detroit tonight, looking to win their 54th game of the season, which would tie a franchise record. There is also the monstrous challenge of earning 23 of 24 points to close out the season to set an NHL record for most points in a season (132), which is currently held by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens.

But the challenge of winning 10 of their final 12 games to top that Red Wings team will also serve as a test. Thursday’s game in Detroit is only one of two games remaining for the Lightning that come against teams out of the Stanley Cup playoff picture (They play Ottawa on April 1).

“I think if we get to 59, maybe we’ll start talking about it,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper via the Tampa Bay Times. “But we’re not talking about it right now.”

Since Tampa is firmly in the top spot in the Atlantic Division and will have home ice throughout the playoffs, at what point does Cooper begin resting players like goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who’s started 44 games, and not worry about history? Presidents’ Trophy winning teams already don’t have the greatest of luck in the postseason. Of the 32 times its been awarded, only eight teams have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. Only 11 have even been able to reached the Cup Final. There’s the target on your back aspect and the pressure that comes with being the NHL’s best regular season team.

What the Lightning have done this season — especially as a contender for the last few years — has made it Stanley Cup or bust in 2019. Two Eastern Conference Final disappointments to the eventual Cup champion in the last three seasons hasn’t sat well with them. The only history that should be on their minds is adding a second championship come June.

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Sharks vs. Coyotes
Jets vs. Stars
Flames vs. Golden Knights
Predators vs. Blues

TODAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIOS
The Sharks can clinch a playoff berth in one of two ways:

• If they beat the Panthers and the Wild lose in regulation to the Stars.

• If they beat Florida and the Wild get one point against Dallas and the Coyotes lose in regulation against the Ducks in regulation.

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Penguins at Sabres, 7 p.m. ET
Canadiens at Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
Capitals at Flyers, 7 p.m. ET
Blues at Senators, 7:30 p.m. ET
Lightning at Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. ET
Stars at Wild, 8 p.m. ET
Bruins at Jets, 8 p.m. ET
Ducks at Coyotes, 10 p.m. ET
Predators at Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET
Panthers at Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Lightning – In
Bruins – 100 percent
Maple Leafs – 99.7 percent
Capitals – 98.8 percent
Islanders – 98.5 percent
Penguins – 95 percent
Hurricanes – 89.7 percent
Blue Jackets – 59.6 percent
Canadiens – 49.9 percent
Flyers – 8.1 percent
Panthers – 0.6 percent
Sabres – 0.1 percent
Rangers – 0 percent
Devils – Out
Red Wings – Out
Senators – Out

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Sharks – 100 percent
Flames – 100 percent
Jets – 99.8 percent
Predators – 99.1 percent
Blues – 97.7 percent
Golden Knights – 97.6 percent
Stars – 87.7 percent
Coyotes 50.4 percent
Wild – 37.9 percent
Avalanche – 19.7 percent
Blackhawks – 7.4 percent
Oilers – 1.9 percent
Canucks – 0.8 percent
Ducks – 0 percent
Kings – 0 percent

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators – 18.5 percent*
Red Wings – 13.5 percent
Kings – 11.5 percent
Devils – 9.5 percent
Ducks – 8.5 percent
Canucks – 7.5 percent
Rangers – 6.5 percent
Oilers – 6 percent
Sabres – 5 percent
Blackhawks – 3.5 percent
Avalanche – 3 percent
Panthers – 2.5 percent
Wild – 2 percent
Flyers – 1.5 percent
Canadiens – 1 percent
(*OTT’s 2019 first-round pick owned by COL)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Lightning – 111 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 100 points
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 99 points
Johnny Gaudreau, Flames – 90 points
Sidney Crosby, Penguins – 90 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 46 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 42 goals
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 41 goals
John Tavares, Maple Leafs – 39 goals
Cam Atkinson, Blue Jackets – 38 goals
Alex DeBrincat, Blackhawks – 38 goals

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Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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