One of the biggest games on the NHL’s schedule Thursday night is in Tampa Bay where the Lightning will be hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs in a massive game for the Eastern Conference Wild card race.
The Lightning will be continue to be extremely shorthanded down the middle as coach Jon Cooper announced on Thursday morning that centers Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette will all be out of the lineup for the game.
All three were injured one week ago in a win over the Minnesota Wild. Johnson and Paquette have not played in any of the team’s game since, while Namestnikov made a brief return on Monday against the New York Rangers, playing only six minutes.
What is amazing about the Lightning right now is that even with all of these current injuries, as well as the injury to Steven Stamkos, and the trades before the deadline that saw them move Ben Bishop, Brian Boyle, and Valtteri Filppula, they are still making a serious push for a playoff spot.
Here is how the standings sit entering play on Tuesday, which should illustrate just how big this game is on Thursday night.
The Lightning enter Thursday’s game on a 12-2-3 run over their past 17 games to not only get back into the playoff race, but to also give themselves a legitimate shot to qualify.
If the Lightning do end up geting in the playoffs either as a wild card team or a top-three team in the Atlantic Division, and have both Stamkos and Johnson back in the lineup, they would be an absolutely miserable team to have to deal with in the first round. Imagine being the Washington Capitals, potentially winning the Presidents’ Trophy again, and your reward in the first round being a surging team that has been in the Stanley Cup Final and Eastern Conference Final the past two years and would just be getting its best player back in the lineup just in time for the playoffs. Would not be much fun.