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Tampa Bay Lightning can clinch first playoff spot in four years tonight

The Tampa Bay Lightning needs four points to clinch a playoff spot. The team can either gain the points on its own with two victories or in combination with points lost by the Hurricanes, who are in ninth place and fighting for the eighth and final playoff spot.

That means the Lightning can clinch tonight. All it has to do is beat the Senators in regulation, overtime or a shootout and Carolina has to lose in regulation to the Capitals.

"It would be a big night for us," coach Guy Boucher said. "Gigantic for the fans, too."

It also would erase the memory of the Lightning's last three games at the St. Pete Times Forum; three bad losses to the Hurricanes, Islanders and Senators.

"Our last three games here we didn't have our work ethic," Boucher said. "People have been coming to the rink because of our relentlessness, not because of our skill, and it wasn't there the last three games."

"It's what you trade individual stuff for," center Steven Stamkos said of making the playoffs. Once you get there anything can happen as we've seen the last couple of years. That's the thing I'm excited about. It's something I've never experienced and that's what my main focus is."

And how about this from right wing Adam Hall:

"There's no doubting in this locker room that we have what it takes. We believe we have what it takes to go all the way to the finals and win the Stanley Cup. That's what we've preached all year."

Other stuff from the morning skate: As expected, Dwayne Roloson gets the start in net. ... Stamkos, Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis, each of whom had Monday off, were on the ice for the optional skate. ... Stamkos, whose six-game streak without a goal tied his longest of the season and who has just three goals in his past 21 games, said he does not care if he reaches 50 goals. He has seven games to get seven goals. "No, that's not something that's on my mind right now," he said. "I'm just focused on getting my game ready for this last push to the playoffs and get where I'm comfortable and confident, and whatever happens production-wise happens. I feel like the last couple of games I've played a solid two-way game, so (50 goals) is not something I'm focused on right now. ... Boucher said he believes Stamkos is trying to be too fine with his shot, trying to pick too many corners. Stamkos said that is a fair assessment. Boucher also said he believes Stamkos is on the cusp of breaking out. He claims Stamkos had nine scoring chances Saturday against the Hurricanes, and he's lost count of how many posts Stamkos has hit during his slump. "I told him the post can't exist any more," Boucher said. "It's enough now. It just becomes a song now, 'beep, beep, beep.' It's enough." ... Wing Ryan Malone, who will miss his 21st game tonight with a mid-body injury now believed to be a groin, sounds as if he is on track to play Thursday against the Penguins, which could be a playoff preview, by the way. ... Interesting follow-up today by Boucher about giving players more rest. As we read in the paper today, the coach said he will be cutting back on practices and giving players more time away from the ice. He called it his "mistake" that when Tampa Bay was home for almost all the month of February, he tried to make up some of the practice time lost during a travel-heavy first half of the season. "That was probably a little mistake we made in February," Boucher said. "The entire year we gave a lot of rest to the players because we're a hard-grinding team and all the games we won we pushed so hard. We came into February, because we missed so many practices during the year we wanted to catch up. We were home for the entire month and that kind of threw us off a little bit in terms of the rest ratio. We caught up enough in practices, but as you see, catching up in practices doesn't necessarily mean wins. So, we've gone back to resting some guys." ... Give goaltender Mike Smith credit for the way he has handled a different and difficult role as a backup with sporadic playing time. "It is different," he said, "but I'm not really worried about it. I'm more worried when I do get a chance to play I play up to my capabilities." He added, "practices are important for a guy like me. You have to be sharp in practice and not take any days off. It's time to go to work when you get here in the morning, and be ready to go when you get a chance to play." ... Simon Gagne has six goals and 10 points in his past six games. The left wing said he has just stayed the course, but Boucher said he sees something more. "He's physically involved. If you look at the last game, I have about 20 clips of him finishing checks or winning a battle and forcing himself with the puck or without the puck at their net. That's the biggest difference."

Tampa Bay Lightning can clinch first playoff spot in four years tonight 03/29/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 8:03am]
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