Friday, April 7, 2017

Isles, Lightning Clinging to Hope

The Ottawa Senators locked up a playoff berth on Thursday in Boston, but the Toronto Maple Leafs had no such luck. The Leafs fell to the Lightning 4-1, giving post-season hope to Tampa as well as the New York Islanders.

Toronto still controls their own destiny, but if either Tampa or the Islanders win out the Leafs will have to gain two points in their two games this weekend against Pittsburgh and Columbus.

Toronto could have clinched with a win tonight but the Lightning came up with near perfect game under pressure to pull within three points of the Leafs. The loss left Maple Leafs coach nonplussed.

"We made it way harder than it should be, we didn't play like we normally do," Mike Babcock said. "I thought we were slow; I don't know if we were tight but we weren't in sync. They won all the battles and all the races and we never established the game we normally play."

Tampa Bay will play the lone NHL game on Friday when he travel to Montreal to face a Canadiens team that has already locked up first place in the Division at Bell Centre. The Lightning host Buffalo in their season finale on Sunday at Amalie Arena.

Tampa Bay has mounted a late surge to remain in contention. They have gone 12-5-2 since the trade deadline on March 1st.

The Islanders have managed to win four in a row without several key players in the lineup. John Tavares is out for the remainder of the regular season but it did not stop New York from shutting out the Hurricanes 3-0 on Thursday. Recently called-up goaltender Jaroslav Halak has won five games since March 24th, which leads all goaltenders in that span.

"The biggest factor has been Jaro," Islanders forward Andrew Ladd said on Thursday. "He's been a rock back there for us. He's been solid ever since he's got back. He gives us confidence in front of him to do the right things."

The Islanders travel to New Jersey on Saturday and host Ottawa on Sunday.