Flyers at Lightning preview: Fighting for position

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers will try not to get swept by the Lightning in the regular season series as they continue to try and gain (and/or not lose) ground in the East.

THE FLYERS ARE IN THE PLAYOFFS WOOOOOOOOOOOOO

... OK, we're all off that high now? More or less? OK, cool, because there are still some things that are going to be decided over the next three games.

Flyers_orange_mediumLightning_black_medium
Philadelphia Flyers (41-29-9, 91 pts) at Tampa Bay Lightning (43-27-9, 95 pts)
7:30 p.m. | Tampa Bay Times Forum | St. Petersburg, Fla.
TV: CSN Philly | Radio: 97.5 FM
Get the Tampa Bay perspective at Raw Charge

The Eastern Conference's playoff lineup was set last night, as Detroit and Columbus picked up one and two points, respectively, to clinch the two remaining playoff spots that were up for grabs. Both of those teams currently sit in a tie with the Flyers at 91 points, though the Flyers have a game in hand on both and a lead in the main tiebreaker (a very slim, one-game lead in regulation and overtime wins over Columbus and a safe five-game lead over Detroit). Couple that with the Flyers sitting two points back with a game in hand on the Rangers, and the Flyers are currently capable of finishing anywhere from second in the Metropolitan to the second wild card.

And in tonight's game, they'll face a team that already knows its first-round opponent -- the Lightning will play the Montreal Canadiens in the first round -- but is still jostling for home-ice in that series.

So there's still a bit on the line here. Maybe you really want home-ice in the first round, maybe you just really don't want to face Boston yet, I don't know. Point is, every game left is probably going to matter.

Anywho. On to the specifics of tonight's game. The Lightning, as mentioned, are playing for home-ice in the first round, and a loss tonight would pretty well end their hopes of that. Unfortunately for them, they'll be without the guy who's been their best and most valuable player this year, as goaltender Ben Bishop is dealing with an elbow injury and won't be available in this game. The Lightning will probably be starting Anders Lindback in Bishop's stead, and though he's had a rough year, he did stop 35 of 38 in a win over the Flyers back on January 11. So no gimmes.

Of course, "no gimmes" is a given with this opponent, given that the Flyers have had an absurd amount of trouble beating the Lightning for a few years now. The Flyers are 3-9-1 since the beginning of the 2010-11 season against Tampa, including 0-2 this season, and almost all of the losses have just been so frustrating in their own little ways. We'll see how that trend goes today.

For the Flyers, their lineup will likely remain the same as it did in Tuesday night's win over Florida -- Michael Raffl at the second-line center spot, Steve Downie on the third line, and Vincent Lecavalier and Tye McGinn on the fourth line. On defense, there was talk that Erik Gustafsson will draw into the lineup -- both Nicklas Grossmann and Andrew MacDonald have been dealing with nagging injuries of late -- so we'll see if that comes to fruition. Ray Emery is your starter in net.

The Flyers didn't always make it look pretty on Tuesday in Sunrise, so there are some things to look out for tonight. Can the power play, which has struggled the past handful of games, get something going against a mediocre Lightning penalty kill? If the Flyers are close in the third period, can they keep the pressure on -- something they've had trouble doing the past few games? How does the "Michael Raffl, second-line center" experiment go tonight? And oh, yeah -- Vincent Lecavalier makes his second trip back to Tampa since the buyout last summer, as a fourth-line center. He's played six games in that role ... and has scored six goals in those games. He got one the last time he visited his old home. Tonight?

Three more games until the playoffs start. Plenty to get done in the meantime. Puck drop at 7:30. Cover the Stamkos guy, I hear he's good. Go Flyers.

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