by Jon Jordan on 03/03/11 at 05:07 PM ET
Direct playoff implications are at hand for three of the five Southeast Division clubs in action tonight and, for another, their post-season chances hang more and more in the balance with each passing day.
In rapid-fire fashion today, here’s a quick look at what’s on tap:
Lightning at Bruins
After a frustrating 2-1 loss in New Jersey last night, the Tampa Bay Lightning suddenly find themselves tied for the second seed in the East with tonight’s opponent, the Boston Bruins. Technically, Boston holds the tiebreaker over Tampa Bay with an even amount of games played (63) and fewer shootout wins on their record.
The Lightning face the stiff challenge of having to rebound tonight without the services of captain Vincent Lecavalier, who has been outstanding since the all-star break, thanks to a mid-body injury that will keep him out at least for this game and possibly longer. Lecavalier reportedly suffered the injury late last night against the Devils while checking center David Steckel.
Tampa Bay has recalled forwards Blair Jones and Mattias Ritola in Lecavalier’s absence.
Another wrinkle to tonight’s game will be the first appearance of goaltender Mike Smith in the Lightning crease since December 18th, after returning from the minors last week, as starter Dwayne Roloson will get the night off following 25 saves in last night’s losing effort.
Sabres at Hurricanes
In probably the biggest game on tonight’s docket, the eight-seeded Carolina Hurricanes host the team closest to them in their chase for a playoff spot, the Buffalo Sabres.
Carolina sits eighth in the Eastern Conference with 69 points in 64 games played with Buffalo just two points behind in ninth but also carrying the cushion of two games in hand.
Each club is coming off of a one-goal win, with Carolina edging Florida 2-1 at home on Tuesday and the Sabres besting the Rangers on the road 3-2 that same night.
Buffalo has points in four straight games (3-0-1), while the Hurricanes are 2-2-1 in their last five.
Blues at Capitals
The Washington Capitals come into tonight’s came against St. Louis winners of five of their last seven and riding high after some late-game heroics on Tuesday that toppled the New York Islanders.
Brooks Laich took a goalmouth feed from deadline acquisition Jason Arnott to knot things in the final minute and then Alex Ovechkin appeared every bit his superstar self that has been hiding at times this season, giving the Caps a much-needed win with an end-to-end rush that led to the overtime winner.
Washington has climbed to within three points of Tampa Bay for the Southeast lead and with a win tonight could very well shrink that down to just one, with a formidable opponent in Boston for the Lightning.
Funny how often Washington has been counted out this season and Tampa Bay praised yet the distance between the two teams is still so close…
Senators at Thrashers
Six points behind Carolina with two teams still stuck in between, if the Atlanta Thrashers can’t pull out a win against Eastern Conference doormat Ottawa, they may as well pack it in.
In this one, it’s just about as simple as that…
Canadiens at Panthers
Finally, the Florida Panthers are now ten points out of the final playoff spot with four teams between where they sit and eighth place Carolina with no real aspirations, as made clear by Monday’s housecleaning, of a playoff berth this season.
But you know what? That’s just fine. Panthers GM Dale Tallon did as good a job as he possibly could have on Monday to set his team up for future success.
In the throes of yet another lost season in South Florida, fans are left looking toward the future once again but, at least this time, there appears to be some clear direction from the organization’s brass.
Sure to be Montreal South tonight at the Bank Atlantic Center…
Let the channel flipping commence.
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