The final wildcard position that is being fought over tonight in the Eastern conference is one that Boston currently occupies but one that Ottawa desperately wants. Only a 3 point difference separates them, and the Senators have a game in hand. With only a handful of games left in the regular season, these games will determine who will hold on or crash into the final playoff spot in the East. Both games should be beauties to watch and bet on.
Tampa Bay @ Ottawa
The Lightning have clinched a playoff berth and are playing hard now to win the Atlantic Division. Whereas, the Sens, their next opponent would be overjoyed to finish fourth in the division. Ottawa is setting their hope high, after getting back in the groove in earning two crucial points in their last outing. They have not faced up with the Lightening so well this season and will try to avoid a third consecutive loss Thursday night. What is Tampa Bay (47-24-7) playing for? They need just one win and a regulation loss by Detroit on Thursday to guarantee themselves home ice advantage in the opening-round of the playoffs. They could even overtake Montreal for the Atlantic lead with a win and a regulation loss by the Canadiens tonight, who will be hosting the ever improving and fast Washington Capitals on Thursday. Montreal could just lose, as the Capitals’ captain, Alexander Ovechkin just hit the 50 goal mark so they will be riding a high. Tampa Bay is coming off some strange games though and Ottawa could benefit, they completed a season sweep of the Montreal Canadians 5-3 on Monday but unexpectedly fell 3-1 to the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs the next night, its third loss in four games. Ottawa could be a fourth loss for the Bolts if the Sens play their game right.
Lightening defenseman Matthew Carle said told media pregame, “It seems like we don’t really play our game when we’re playing against teams that are lower than us in the standings…It’s frustrating for sure but we still have four games left. We can’t dwell on this one too much. We’ve got a tough test in Ottawa.”
Boston @ Detroit
What’s the big story? The Senators (38-26-12) are within three points of their division rival, the Boston Bruins for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, and at least the fourth-place finisher in the Atlantic will earn a playoff spot, because all of the Metropolitan teams below them are eliminated. The Bruins are visiting the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday and that should be a tough battle for the B’s, which puts the Sens in a MUST win situation. If they can win and the Bruins lose, they can overtake them. Their Coach, Babcock has the Red Wings on a roll, only getting stronger as they get close to the finish – they will not let their long time Original Six rival just walk in and take two points. Ironically enough, they lost to Ottawa in their last game in OT 2-1, so look for them to be hyped up and ready to play to win.
“We know we need two points every night we play,” Ottawa winger Mark Stone told media. “We’re just looking to string wins together.” Stone gave Ottawa a win Tuesday with his shootout goal in Tuesday’s hard won 2-1 win in Detroit, breaking their three-game losing streak.
Another thing to watch for in this great game: is the big goaltender matchup: Andrew Hammond vs. Ben Bishop. They are among NHL goalies that have played at least 18 games, Hammond has the most wins (15), best save percentage (.938) and best goals against average (1.85). Against his old team, Bishop has a 6-0-2 record along with a .924 save percentage and 2.30 GAA. But he has also lost two of his last three games and has given up three goals in each of his last four, when his save percentage has not been higher than .893. For this reason you can expect a high scoring event.
Senators over Lightening, 6 plus goals
Detroit over Boston, under 5 goals