It's still only December, but tonight is a near must-win game for the Lightning. Sitting in fourth place in the Southeast Division, the Tampa Bay Lightning (15-17-3, 33 points) have a long way to climb in the standings if they want to make a playoff run. They currently sit six points behind the second place team in their division and the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. If they're going to rise that high in the standings, the Bolts can't afford to let game like tonight slip by them.
The Montreal Canadiens (14-16-7) have been nearly as bad this year as the Lightning. They are in last place in the Northeast Division with 35 points, but they have only allowed 103 goals on the season -- considerably better than the Lightning's 117 goals allowed. They have also controlled the puck only 47.5% of the time, seventh worst in the NHL and nearly as bad as the Lightning (46.2% puck control). Despite qualifying for the playoffs last year with the Lightning, they are a beatable team at the moment.
A few days ago, Tampa Bay head coach Guy Boucher called the upcoming seven games for the Lightning crucial for turning their season around. The Bolts won the first game of those seven, somehow beating the Flyers 5-1 despite being outshot 32-16, and they have a good shot at winning the second. If the Bolts want to win tonight, though, they'll need to keep from making penalties.
The Bolts have the 12th worst penalty kill unit in the NHL (51 SA/60 minutes), and the Canadiens have one of the better power play units (52 SF/60 minutes). This combination promises to be dangerous enough for the Lightning, but they will also be without Victor Hedman, their top defensive player. The Lightning are a mess on special teams at the best of times, so I hope Boucher makes it clear that whoever commits the first penalty tonight will have a custom, solo practice after the game.
Where: Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
When: 7:30pm EST
Coverage: Sun Sports, TSN, RDS
For more on the Lightning/Canadien game tonight, drop by SB Nation's blog on the Bolts, Raw Charge.