NHL on NBCSN: Lightning kick off homestand against Sabres

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Buffalo Sabres at the Amalie Arena at 7:30 p.m. ET tonight. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

The trade deadline has past and with it, every player knows where they stand for the rest of the season. The Lightning got a significant reinforcement on Monday in former Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn and with that settled they’ll have to look to each other in their final push before the playoffs.

Tampa Bay’s first step to that end will be to try and sweep this three-game homestand against Buffalo, Toronto, and Dallas. Those are squads that are out of the playoff picture and consequently the Lightning should be able to take these games. If they successfully secure those six points then they’ll be in a strong position against the Atlantic Division-leading Montreal Canadiens when they meet on March 10.

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It’s not a foregone conclusion that the Lightning will run the table though. After all, they’ve been merely treading water since the start of February with a 6-5-2 record. They’re also still missing defenseman Matt Carle, who hasn’t played since Jan. 15 due to an abdominal injury.

Additionally, while the Buffalo Sabres look terrible on paper — especially after trading away Brian Flynn, Chris Stewart, Torrey Mitchell, and Michal Neuvirth on Monday — they might not be the pushovers some are expecting. Buffalo as a team doesn’t have much left to play for in 2014-15 and from a long-term perspective, it probably would be best for the franchise if the squad remained in 30th place to secure either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in the 2015 draft. However, on an individual level they have plenty of motivated players.

Take goaltenders Chad Johnson and Anders Lindback for example. They’re coming off rough stints with the New York Islanders and Dallas Stars respectively, but now find themselves in a situation where they have a legitimate shot at competing for the starting gig. They’ll want to make the most of this opportunity to prove that they still have value on an NHL squad.

They’re not alone either. Buffalo is full of guys that are playing for their future or at least their pride. Meanwhile, the pressure is mounting for Tampa Bay as we move towards the postseason, so while the Lightning are expected to win this game, they certainly need to be careful or else these important two points will slip away.