The Tampa Bay Lightning can clinch their first playoff berth in four seasons with a win tonight against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins. With the magic number down to two, a victory secures the Bolts a ticket to the postseason and tonight's game is likely a preview of the first round matchup as the fourth place Penguins will face-off at 7:30pm est in the St. Petersburg Times Forum.
The Penguins have been a remarkable story as they lost both stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to injuries but continued to climb up the standings. Led by outstanding goal-tending by Marc-Andre Fleury the Pens have managed to not only stay in the playoff hunt but have battled with Philadelphia for first place in the Northeastern division. However, in fourth place at 98 points, four points behind the Flyers, its looking more and more likely that the Penguins will end up playing the fifth place Lightning in the first round of the postseason.
For the Bolts, they will be getting a big boost as forward Ryan Malone will finally return from an abdominal injury that has sidelined him since February. The former Penguin, in addition to Steve Downies recent comeback, will give the Lightning some much needed intensity that the team has lacked during its March swoon.
Having won two straight, Tampa Bay is hoping to not drag out the clinching process and punch their ticket tonight in front of the hometown crowd. Trailing Pittsburgh by only 5 points, the Bolts can also move to within three points of home-ice advantage for the first round match up. Nobody wants to limp into the playoffs and gaining some momentum in the final push towards the postseason is critical for a team that has recently struggled so mightily.