Lightning, Flyers battle for playoff positioning

( - The Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers have both punched their tickets to the postseason, but the clubs will try to improve their playoff seeding when they meet Thursday in Central Florida.

The Lightning are back in the playoffs after a two-season absence and the club knows it will face Montreal in the first round. Home-ice advantage in that series is still up for grabs, however, and although Tampa Bay is three points behind the Canadiens, the Bolts do hold a game in hand.


Montreal is playing one of its two remaining regular-season games tonight against the visiting New York Islanders.

The Flyers, meanwhile, locked up their sixth postseason berth in seven years with a win at Florida on Tuesday. Philadelphia missed the playoffs last spring for only the second time since the lockout-shortened 1995 campaign.

Philadelphia is currently locked in a three-way battle for playoff seeding with its Metropolitan Division rivals, the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers, who also have clinched postseason berths.


The Rangers are second in the division with 93 points, while Columbus and Philadelphia are two points behind. The team finishing second will host a first-round series against the third-place club, leaving the fourth-place team to settle for a wild card spot.

With three tilts left, the Flyers hold a game in hand over both the Blue Jackets and Rangers. New York hosts Buffalo on Thursday, while Columbus is idle.

The Flyers had lost four in a row (0-2-2) before posting a pair of 5-2 victories in their last two outings against Buffalo and the Panthers. Tuesday's win kicked off a three-game road trip that will end Saturday in Pittsburgh before Philly ends the regular season the following day against visiting Carolina.

Claude Giroux scored twice to help the Flyers secure their postseason berth. Giroux has 27 goals this season and is fifth in the NHL with 81 points.

Sean Couturier, Tye McGinn and Vincent Lecavalier each had a goal for the Flyers. Steve Mason made 38 saves and tied a career best with his 33rd win of the year.

Philadelphia made the playoffs after firing head coach Peter Laviolette following an 0-3 start and replacing him with Craig Berube. The Flyers were just 4-7-1 in the first 12 games with Berube behind the bench, but have gone 37-19-8 since.


"Well, it's great," said Berube. "I told the guys, 'You should be proud of yourselves.' I mean, they went through a lot and they battled hard all year. They're a good group of guys, good character, and they deserve a lot of credit for making the playoffs."

Philly halted a three-game road skid on Tuesday and is 17-15-7 as the visiting team this season.

The Lightning will play their last three games without No. 1 goaltender Ben Bishop, who left Tuesday's game against Toronto early in the first period with an upper-body injury. While Tampa head coach Jon Cooper wouldn't rule out Bishop for the first round of the playoffs, it's unclear if he'll be back for the start of the postseason.

Anders Lindback relieved the injured Bishop in net and stopped all 25 shots he faced as the Bolts blanked the visiting Maple Leafs, 3-0, and eliminated them from playoff contention.

Bishop went down less than six minutes into the contest. The netminder dove after a deflection, landed on his left wrist and stayed on the ice writhing in pain after making the save. His teammates immediately called to the bench for assistance, and he needed help getting off the ice.


The 27-year-old Bishop is a big reason Tampa Bay is returning to the playoffs this season and he could be in the running for the Vezina Trophy. Acquired from Ottawa at last season's trade deadline, he is 37-14-7 with a 2.23 goals against average and .924 save percentage this season.

The Lightning have recalled goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis from Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League to replace Bishop on the roster.

Bishop had made three saves before exiting Tuesday's game, and Lindback did the rest with seven more stops in the opening frame, 11 in the second and seven more in the third to complete the shutout.

"It wasn't a surprise that he came in and played huge for us," said defenseman Victor Hedman. "He made key saves when we needed him and it was a well- deserved shutout for him."

Ondrej Palat scored two goals and Hedman added an empty-netter in the final minute for the Lightning, who snapped a two-game skid.

Thursday's test is the fifth part of a six-game homestand for the Lightning, who are 23-10-6 at the Forum this season. Tampa will complete the residency Friday against Columbus before capping the regular season Sunday in Washington.


Tampa Bay is 2-0 against the Flyers this season and has taken three straight and six of the past seven meetings in the series. The Flyers have lost five straight and six of seven in Tampa.


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