Push For The Playoffs: Rest, getting healthy are keys for Lightning right now

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2020-21 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.

The Lightning are in a unique spot right now where they have very little to play for in their remaining five regular season games.

Their playoff spot has long been clinched.

They also already seem to be locked into their opening round matchup and will almost certainly be playing the Panthers. The Lightning, currently in the third spot in the Central Division, have a 13-point lead over the fourth place Predators and are four points back of the Hurricanes for first place. With the Hurricanes sitting in the driver’s seat for that top spot, the Panthers and Lightning seem to be on a collision course for the first round.

The only thing that remains to be decided is which team gets home-ice advantage, and the Lightning seem to have the edge there right now. They only trail Florida by two points, still have two games in hand, and play the Panthers in back-to-back games to wrap up the regular season.

[Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Given all of that, the main concern for Tampa Bay right now is making sure their top players are rested and healthy for what could be another lengthy postseason appearance. They should have Steven Stamkos (who has missed most of April) and Nikita Kucherov (who has missed the entire regular season) back for the playoffs, adding two superstars to an already loaded lineup.

Beyond that, it would not hurt to start limiting some minutes for players like top defenseman Victor Hedman and starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Vasilevskiy in particular is a player that the Lightning should be watching. He has taken on an enormous workload the past couple of seasons, and he might be the most irreplaceable player on the roster. Since the start of the 2019-20 season the Lightning are just 12-13-4 in games where Vasilevskiy is not the goaltender of record. He played every minute of the playoffs during the Lightning Stanley Cup run a season ago, and he has already played 39 out of 50 games this season.

The Lightning game him the day off in Saturday’s 1-0 shootout loss to Detroit, and coach Jon Cooper would not commit to him starting on Sunday only to say they have “a plan” for how they want to handle his workload down the stretch.

That is smart. They are going to need him more in a couple of weeks than they do right now.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY (matchups by total points)

1. Penguins vs. 4. Bruins
2. Capitals vs. 3. Islanders

1. Hurricanes vs. 4. Predators
2. Panthers vs. 3 Lightning

1. Maple Leafs vs. 4. Canadiens
2. Oilers vs. 3. Jets

1. Golden Knights vs. 4. Blues
2. Avalanche vs. 3. Wild

Lightning vs. Red Wings, 3 p.m. ET (NBC livestream)


Capitals – Clinched
Penguins – Clinched
Islanders – Clinched
Bruins – 99.98%
Rangers – 0%
Flyers – eliminated
Devils – eliminated
Sabres – eliminated


Hurricanes – Clinched
Panthers – Clinched
Lightning – Clinched
Predators – 82.2%
Stars – 17.8%
Blackhawks – 0%
Red Wings – eliminated
Blue Jackets – eliminated


Maple Leafs – Clinched
Oilers – 100%
Jets – 99.5%
Canadiens – 95.3%
Flames – 5%
Canucks – 0.2%
Senators – eliminated


Golden Knights – Clinched
Avalanche – Clinched
Wild – Clinched
Blues – 94%
Coyotes – 5.5%
Kings – 0.5%
Sharks – 0.1%
Ducks – eliminated

draft lottery
Getty Images


Sabres – 18.5%
Ducks – 13%
Devils – 9.9%
Blue Jackets – 8.8%
Red Wings – 8.5%
Senators – 7.7%
Canucks – 6.6%
Sharks – 6.2%
Kings – 6%
Blackhawks – 3.6%
Coyotes – 3.1%
Flames – 2.6%
Flyers – 2.5%
Rangers – 1.2%


Connor McDavid, Oilers – 87 points
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 71
Mitch Marner, Maple Leafs – 64
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 63
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 62
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 62


Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 38 goals
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 29
Mikko Rantanen, Avalanche – 28
Brad Marchand, Bruins – 27
Tyler Toffoli, Canadiens – 27

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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