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Lightning's playoff hopes: So you're saying there's a chance?

Center Brian Boyle put a sobering spin on one of the Lightning's best stretches of the season.

'"We're winning just to stay where we're at," he said.

And Tampa Bay's unlikely climb into a playoff spot only gets more daunting.

Despite winning three of its last four games, the Lightning (25-24-7) remains six points out of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and seven points behind Boston for third in the Atlantic Division (with two games in hand).

Six teams separate Tampa Bay and the last wild card. Most have an easier path to the playoffs, according to a Tampa Bay Times schedule analysis.

READ: WHEN WILL STAMKOS BE STAMKOS?

Starting this weekend, the Lightning will have five sets of back-to-back games on the road, more than any wild-card contender. The Hurricanes and Devils have zero. Toronto and Carolina have one. The Lightning's six remaining back-to-backs total are second only to Buffalo (eight). The Islanders have a tough slate with the most road games left (18), but just one back to back where both are away from Barclays Center.

Tampa Bay's record in back-to-backs: 8-7-6. That's not a promising picture for a team that needs 38 points in its final 26 games — the equivalent of a 19-7 run — to reach 95 points, which the lowest-qualifying Eastern Conference playoff team averaged the past three seasons. That's a lot to ask for a Tampa Bay team that has won back-to-back games just twice since late November.

Can the Lightning pull it off? Yes. It has 15 home games left, and two matchups apiece with Boston and Toronto, among the teams it's chasing. This might come down to the final road trip, when Tampa Bay faces the Maple Leafs, Bruins and Canadiens. But there's a reason Tampa Bay's odds are 13.4 percent to make the playoffs, according to hockeyreference.com's projections.

Now that's sobering.

NHL Eastern Conference wild-card standings

The favorites for the last wild card and Atlantic playoff spots

* Maple Leafs: The young Leafs have stumbled, going 3-5-2 in their last 10. But all it would take is a 16-10 finish to get to 95 points. Toronto has 21 of its final 27 games against Eastern Conference teams. Six are against Detroit, Buffalo and Florida, against which Toronto is a combined 7-1.

* Bruins: Boston is rolling, having won three straight after the firing of coach Claude Julien (who has since taken over as Canadiens coach). The Bruins are a combined 13-0 against divisional foes Lightning, Sabres, Panthers and Red Wings. Boston does have the always tough West Coast and Western Canada trips remaining.

The playoff-race wild cards

* Islanders: They've gotten hot under new coach Doug Weight, winning nine of their past 14. The problem? Eighteen of the Islanders' final 26 games are on the road, where they're 7-12-4 this season.

* Panthers: Finally healthy, with Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov back, the Panthers are pushing, going 5-1-1 in their last seven entering Friday, including an impressive overtime win Wednesday against the Sharks to open a West Coast trip. Eighteen of Florida's final 27 games come against teams currently in a playoff spot.

* Hurricanes: Carolina entered Friday with 17 of its final 29 games at home, where it is really good (17-6-1). And the Hurricanes' schedule includes just 13 matchups against teams currently in a playoff spot. Zero of Carolina's five back-to-backs feature both games on the road.

The road ahead

Here's a breakdown of the remaining schedules entering Friday for the teams battling with the Lightning for the final Eastern Conference wild card spot, currently in the possession of the Toronto Maple Leafs with 63 points. The past three seasons, the lowest-qualifying playoff team in the Eastern Conference averaged 95 points. Here's how each team gets there:

Category Lightning Flyers Maple Leafs Islanders Panthers Bruins Sabres Devils Hurricanes Red Wings
Record 25-24-7 27-24-7 26-19-11 26-20-10 25-20-10 29-23-6 25-23-10 24-23-10 24-22-7 22-25-7
Points needed 38 in 26 games 34 in 24 games 32 in 26 games 33 in 26 games 35 in 27 games 31 in 24 games 35 in 24 games 37 in 25 games 40 in 29 games 41 in 25 games
How to get there 19-7, 18-6-2, 17-5-4 17-7, 16-7-1, 15-5-4 16-10, 15-9-2, 14-8-4 17-9, 16-9-1, 15-8-3 18-9, 17-9-1, 16-8-3 16-8, 15-8-1, 14-7-3 18-6, 17-6-1, 16-5-3 19-6, 18-6-1, 17-5-3 20-9, 19-8-2, 18-7-4 21-4, 20-4-1, 19-3-3
Back-to-backs 6 4 5 6 5 4 8 5 5 6
Home games left 15 11 14 8 14 13 13 15 17 12
Home record 14-10-2 17-9-4 14-9-4 19-8-6 14-10-3 15-13 14-10-4 12-11-4 17-6-1 11-13-5
Road games left 11 13 12 18 13 11 11 11 12 13
Road record 14-10-2 10-15-3 12-10-7 7-12-4 11-10-7 14-10-6 11-13-6 12-12-6 7-16-6 11-12-5
Games vs. Eastern Conf. 18 19 21 17 17 13 15 21 19 18
Games vs. current playoff teams 15 13 14 12 18 12 14 13 13 13

READ: More from Joe Smith

So you're saying there's a chance?

The Lightning is a long shot to make the playoffs, according to projections by hockeyreference.com, which used a formula created by statistician Justin Kubatko.

Atlantic Division

Montreal 94 percent

Ottawa 75.1 percent

Boston 58.1 percent

Wild Card

N.Y. Rangers 99.8 percent

Toronto 61. 6 percent

--------------------------------------

Florida 26.9 percent

N.Y. Islanders 25.2 percent

Carolina 21.2 percent

Lightning 13.4 percent

Philadelphia 8.3 percent

Buffalo 5.7 percent

New Jersey 6.2 percent

Detroit0.8 percent

Lightning's playoff hopes: So you're saying there's a chance? 02/17/17 [Last modified: Friday, February 17, 2017 11:27pm]
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