The Tampa Bay Lightning face the Carolina Hurricanes at 7:00 PM Saturday night in the final game of the regular season for both clubs. While the Lightning clinched a playoff spot a while ago and clinched the fifth seed with their victory last night, the Hurricanes have a lot riding on this game.
The Hurricanes are currently competing with the New York Rangers for the final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, only needing to win tonight to clinch a playoff spot. If the Hurricane lose and the Rangers win, though, then the Rangers will be heading into the playoffs instead. This puts the Rangers at a disadvantage, as the Lightning have no incentive to play their best lineup or their hardest in tonight's game.
SB Nation's blog for the Lightning, Raw Charge, has more on tonight's match-up:
Mike Smith starts in goal tonight for the Bolts. Victor Hedman, Ryan Malone and others may very well sit tonight. The Lightning may make call-ups from AHL Norfolk, but the team does not want to screw over the Ads own playoff seeding chase.
The Lightning have improved to a tie for ninth in the NHL on the penalty kill, with an 83.7% kill rate. They will likely end the season in sixth in the NHL on the power play (20.6% conversion rate at the moment). The Hurricanes, on the other hand, have the 21st rated penalty kill unit in the league, stopping 81.2% of opposing power plays. They are converting 15.9% of power play opportunities, ranking them 24th in the league.
Rangers fans will be watching tonight's game closely, but odds are the Lightning will be taking things easy. There's no sense risking a big injury right before the playoffs; let your key players get some work in to stay fresh, but otherwise, why risk it?