Bruins end playoff drought, deal enormous blow to Lightning’s hopes

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Considering all the Boston Bruins went through lately, it has to feel good to see Zdeno Chara score the goal that really made it clear that they’d clinch a playoff spot on Tuesday.

That 3-0 tally made a Tampa Bay Lightning rally unlikely, with the Bruins ultimately winning 4-0. In doing so, they punched their ticket to the postseason after two lost seasons.

Now, while the Bruins checked off the most important box in actually making it to the playoffs, there are still other matters to settle:

  • Will Brad Marchand face a suspension through the Bruins’ final two games of the season … and maybe even see his punishment extend into the playoffs? (More on that here.)
  • Who will they face in the playoffs? There’s a serious logjam in the Atlantic Division rankings, so we’ll see if the Bruins manage a round of home-ice or if they’ll settle for the third spot or fall to the wild card.
  • There’s no chance to move all the way to the top of the Atlantic, however. The Montreal Canadiens clinched the division title on Monday.

So, the Bruins still have a few pages to write in the story of their regular season, but they already know there will be a “To be continued” to the playoffs.

The Lightning, meanwhile, find themselves in a real bind. At 88 standings points and with just three games remaining on their schedule, it might just be a matter of time before the Lightning are eliminated.

If this game ends up being their undoing, then it will be a bitter way for Tampa Bay’s mad rush to end.

The Bruins can relate in falling just a few strides short of the playoffs … but they’re glad not to share in the Lightning’s misery in 2016-17.

WATCH LIVE: High stakes in Tampa Bay Lightning at Boston Bruins

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The first contest in NBCSN’s doubleheader is big for the Boston Bruins and enormous for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Bolts trail the Bruins by four points in the race for the East’s final spot, and while other Atlantic teams are in Boston’s zip code, Tampa Bay’s best way of making up ground is simply beating the Bruins in regulation.

Don’t expect the Bruins to make it easy, however, as playoff positioning could change dramatically if they can keep it together this week:

Atlantic at a glance (Montreal clinched division title)

2. Maple Leafs – 93 points in 78 games
3. Senators – 92 points in 78 games

Bruins – 92 points in 79 games
Lightning – 88 points in 78 games

Yep, as you can see, the Bolts’ most realistic route to the postseason is by beating the B’s, especially since Boston will only play two more games after tonight.

Check out this preview of both NBCSN games, which also includes a big contest for the Edmonton Oilers against the Los Angeles Kings. You can also watch this game online and via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream link.

No Stamkos tonight versus Bruins

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Steven Stamkos will not return for the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight in Boston (on NBCSN).

Stamkos (knee) didn’t participate in line rushes this morning, and he stayed on the ice after his teammates left. Head coach Jon Cooper then confirmed that his captain would not play.

This is essentially a must-win game for the Bolts. Four points back of Boston for the second wild-card spot, a loss would cripple their already-slim playoff hopes.

But the long-term health of their star forward takes precedence over a slightly better chance to beat the Bruins.

Forward J.T. Brown and d-man Jason Garrison will also miss tonight’s contest with injuries.

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Lightning vs. Bruins; Oilers vs. Kings

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The NHL on NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 season with a doubleheader on Tuesday. First, The Boston Bruins will host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:00 p.m. ET. To watch that game online, click here

Well, regular-season games don’t get much bigger than this one. The Lightning are in must-win mode if they want a spot in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They’ll enter tonight’s game trailing the Bruins by four points (the Bolts have a game in hand) for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. There’s no getting around it, this game is huge.

“It’s down to win or go home,” defenseman Anton Stralman said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s Game 7.

“We’ve still got a chance — that’s all we can ask for. We believe.”

Even if the Lightning win their last four games of the season, that doesn’t guarantee them a playoff spot. They’ll need a little help along the way because Boston, Ottawa (four points ahead) and Toronto (five points ahead) all have more regulation/overtime wins.

The good news, is that the Bolts will get a crack at Boston tonight and they’ll face Toronto on Thursday.

But beating either team, especially the Bruins, won’t be simple. Since dropping a 6-3 decision to the Lightning in late March, Boston has won five games in a row. If you think the winning streak has made the Bruins forget their terrible performance in that game, guess again.

“It was one of those games where we didn’t show up and they took advantage of that,” center Patrice Bergeron said, per the Boston Herald. “We definitely know how they play and how good they are offensively in their transition and whatnot. We have to build from what we’ve done this weekend.”

Bruce Cassidy’s team should be feeling pretty good about themselves. Not only are they four points up on the Bolts for the final Wild Card spot, but they’re inching closer to a top three spot in the Atlantic Division.

A regulation win over the Bolts would see the Bruins clinch a playoff spot. Pretty simple.

In the late game, it’ll be the Los Angeles Kings hosting the Edmonton Oilers at 10:30 p.m. ET. To watch that game online, click here

For the first time in 11 years, the Oilers will be heading to the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean their work this season is over.

Edmonton still has plenty to play for. Believe it or not, an Oilers will in regulation or overtime combined with a Ducks loss to Calgary in regulation would put Edmonton in first place in the Pacific Division.

Obviously, Connor McDavid is the biggest reason for Edmonton’s turnaround this season, but they’ve also received strong contributions from goalie Cam Talbot, Leon Draisaitl and quite a few others.

McDavid and Draisailt, in particular, have been terrific. Both players enter tonight’s game riding 10-game point streaks. It seems like stopping this duo is nearly impossible.

“There’s a camaraderie between the two, they’ve grown up in the organization and they look out for each other and I think they enjoy being with one another. That gives them extra time to communicate on the ice,” said head coach Todd McLellan, per the Edmonton Sun.

“Connor’s speed and Leon’s passing ability, you’ve got Leon who can slow the game down and Connor who speeds it up. That makes it tough for the opposition to judge what’s coming at them.”

Both players might not have any playoff experience, but facing them in the opening round won’t be a treat.

In the last three seasons, the Kings have made the post-season just once (they were bounced in the first round). Their lack of winning and inability to score goals has some people wondering if it’s time to give Darryl Sutter his walking papers this off-season.

Sure, the Kings had to deal with Jonathan Quick going down to injury in the first game of the season, but scoring goals was always an issue this season, and that didn’t change on Sunday, when a 2-1 loss to Arizona officially crushed their playoff hopes.

It’s also pretty clear that Anze Kopitar was one of the bigger disappointments this season. Through 72 games, the Kings captain has just 12 goals and 49 points.

“I can’t talk about that right now. It’s definitely too early,” Kopitar said of what his team was lacking this season, per LA Kings Insider. “You can really go down the list. It certainly didn’t help (Quick) going down the first game, and then we just had too many stretches of not playing remotely good enough, and obviously the losses kept piling on. I think coming back after the breaks we weren’t as sharp as we needed to be. A lot of guys, I think, with me being on top of that list, I don’t think the production was there the way we expect from ourselves and from each other, and you can go on and on right now. But like I said, it’s a very empty feeling.”

Bruins sign Boston University product Forsbacka Karlsson to entry-level deal

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The Boston Bruins got some work done today, both on and off the ice.

After beating the Chicago Blackhawks to extend their winning streak to five games and increase their chances of securing a playoff spot, the Bruins announced the signing of 20-year-old forward Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, who had spent the last two years at Boston University.

It’s a three-year entry-level deal for Forsbacka Karlsson, a right-shooting center who is expected to join the Bruins during the upcoming week, according to the club.

Originally selected in the second round, 45th overall, in the 2015 NHL Draft, Forsbacka Karlsson had 14 goals and 33 points in 39 games during his sophomore season with the Terriers.