Any Chance Motivated Lightning Overlook NHL-Worst Sabres?

Thursday, April 5, 2018 3:56 PM UTC

Thursday, Apr. 5, 2018 3:56 PM UTC

The Tampa Bay Lightning are chasing the top seed in the Eastern Conference and really have no right losing at home to the awful Buffalo Sabres on Friday night (7:30 ET).

Buffalo (62 points) at Tampa Bay (110 points)Free NHL Pick: Lightning PLBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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Just four games scheduled on the final Friday of the 2017-18 NHL season, with 30 of the 31 teams then playing Saturday and just Florida-Boston on Sunday before the playoff field is set. Tampa Bay plays its regular-season home finale Friday with a 7:30 p.m. puck drop against the NHL-worst Buffalo Sabres.

As bad as the Sabres are, they lead the season series 2-1. The one game in Tampa was the last meeting on Feb. 28, a 2-1 Buffalo overtime victory. Jason Pominville scored on a power play at 1:26 of OT. Bolts scoring leader Nikita Kucherov did miss that game.

Ryan O’Reilly leads Buffalo with four points vs. Tampa Bay this season, three of those goals. Star Jack Eichel has played in just one of the three and is scoreless. Chad Johnson is 2-0-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. Robin Lehner started in the loss.

No Lightning player has more than two points (or one goal) this season vs. Buffalo. Steven Stamkos is scoreless. Andrei Vasilevskiy is 1-0-1 with a 0.99 GAA and .971 SV.

Despite the recent success, Buffalo is just 3-12 in the past 15 meetings

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Rasmus Is Big Prize

You don’t hear as much about tanking in the NHL as you do in the NBA or Major League Baseball, but the Sabres have done it well of late. They are now guaranteed the fewest points in the NHL and thus the highest percentage of winning the draft lottery (later this month) at 18.5 percent.

The only other team with a shot at finishing with the fewest points in the league had been Ottawa, but the Senators beat the Sabres 4-2 on Wednesday to assure Buffalo would become the NHL’s first team to finish 31st (thanks to addition of expansion Vegas). You want the top pick in the 2018 draft because of highly-touted defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. He’s considered Sweden’s top NHL prospect in a generation. He will be just the third defenseman picked first overall in the past 22 seasons.

I’ve previewed Tampa Bay’s past two big games vs. Boston and was right on both: the Lightning losing in Beantown 4-2 on Mach 29 but then knocking off the visiting Bruins 4-0 on Tuesday. Tampa Bay entered that latter one having surrendered the opening goal in its last five games and going 1-4-0 in them.

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Kuni-vision. 👀#GoBolts

— x - Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) April 4, 2018

Entering play Thursday (when Boston was at Florida), the Bruins and Lightning were tied for the most points in the East. Boston would win a head-to-head tiebreaker, but the first one should they remain tied would be regulation wins without shootouts.

The Bolts won Tuesday without Stamkos, who is dealing with a lower-body injury. Coach John Cooper has hinted the team might hold out the captain until next week’s playoffs. Tampa Bay closes the season Saturday at Carolina. Meanwhile, Tuesday’s shutout was Vasilevskiy's eighth this season, setting a franchise record. He’s still in the running for the Vezina but probably won’t win it.

The Sabres have called up several guys from the minors to close out the season and have zero motivation to care much here. Buffalo is just 3-12 in its past 15 playing on one day of rest. The Lightning, meanwhile, know they have almost no shot at the East’s top seed with a loss. This shouldn’t be close. Take Tampa on the puck line for a Friday NHL pick.

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