Lightning aims for not just playoffs, but home ice

Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (left) celebrates his goal upon his return.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (left) celebrates his goal upon his return.

TAMPA — Nothing has been clinched, but it appears likely the Lightning will reach the postseason for the first time since 2011.

Players are even saying their goal is to earn home-ice advantage for the opening round which, if it started today, would be against the Canadiens.

"It's always nice being at home, having the extra game, the line changes, the home crowd," C Tyler Johnson said. "It's definitely something we're going for."

Especially with Tampa Bay 20-8-6 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, and a pedestrian 19-16-3 on the road.

With the Bruins running away with the Atlantic Division, the Lightning must finish second to secure home ice.

The way the playoffs are set up, second- and third-place teams in each division face off in the first round. Tampa Bay is in second, but only because it has played fewer games than Montreal.

The Lightning also plays seven of its last 10 regular-season games at home, including April 1 against the Canadiens.

"You want to focus one game at a time," C Valtteri Filppula said, "but in the back of your mind you're thinking if you have a good end of the year you might start at home, and that would be great."

Stammer time: The Lightning power play is 9-for-29 in its past seven games.

Though some of that is due to captain Steven Stamkos' shooting prowess — four of his seven goals since returning from a broken right tibia came with the man advantage — just his presence alters an opponent's focus.

"Just look at the way he's defended," coach Jon Cooper said. "It's much like the way teams defend (Washington's Alex) Ovechkin. I wouldn't say they cheat, but he's the focal point."

"And that," Filppula said, "opens up something else."

Filppula benefited Saturday against the Penguins, when Stamkos faked a shot and passed cross-ice to Filppula, who scored into an almost empty net.

"He faked that shot and the goalie had to come out a lot," Filppula said. "My shot barely made it to the net but had time to go in, so it's a big thing."

The power play was key again Monday against the Senators, going 2-for-7, though it failed four-on-three in overtime.

"The power play bailed us out," Cooper said of the game.

"But you always want more," Stamkos said. "I'd like to have us score there for sure."

Another chance: RW Nikita Kucherov was in the lineup after five straight games, and seven of eight, as a healthy scratch. He made the most of his return with a first-period goal, his first in 15 games, and three shots in 8:41 of ice time.

Triptik: Newly signed C Cody Kunyk, of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, joined the team Monday after a two-day trip that included flights from Fairbanks to Seattle, Seattle to Minneapolis and Minneapolis to Tampa.

Odds and ends: Stamkos played his 400th NHL game. … Filppula's nine-game points streak (four goals, nine assists) is tied for the league's longest current. … Forwards B.J. Crombeen and Richard Panik, and defensemen Keith Aulie and Mark Barberio were scratched. … Bucs WR Vincent Jackson donated 400 tickets to military members.

Lightning aims for not just playoffs, but home ice 03/24/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 12:31am]

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