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NHL scores 2017: Lightning’s charge claims spotlight as playoffs near

Tampa Bay’s quest for a playoff spot is alive and well.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

The only three Stanley Cup Playoffs berths left to fill are in the Eastern Conference. And the Tampa Bay Lightning are coming for all of them.

The Bolts dusted the Dallas Stars off their shoulders with ease on Sunday, routing the eliminated team to pull within three points of the Ottawa Senators for the second wild card spot out East. Somehow, the Lightning are just four points out of second in the Atlantic.

Tampa Bay is lucky in that regard. It’s easy to compare them to Dallas: Two up-and-coming teams with Stanley Cup hopes ravaged by injuries this season. But Dallas has folded already, thanks in part to a strong Central Division.

But the Atlantic is a different, more tamable beast, and the Lightning are taking full advantage. Ottawa’s grip on a playoff berth is evaporating after two weeks of losses, and it remains to be seen if the Maple Leafs know how to close out yet. Boston may be out of Tampa Bay’s reach after an invigorating win over Chicago on Sunday, but you never know.

What we do know is that the Lightning are as hungry as any NHL team right now. And everyone’s attention is on them and their nervous Atlantic bunkmates during the final week of the season.

Scores

Bruins 3, Blackhawks 2

Islanders 4, Sabres 2

Blues 4, Predators 1

Penguins 3, Hurricanes 2

Wild 5, Avalanche 2

Lightning 6, Stars 3

Capitals 3, Blue Jackets 2

Sharks 3, Canucks 1

Rangers 4, Flyers 3

Ducks 4, Flames 3

Coyotes 2, Kings 1



Three things we learned

1. San Jose is still in the Pacific race ... at a cost

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Sharks took care of business against Vancouver on Sunday, pulling within two points of Edmonton for second place out west. But Joe Thornton was a casualty.

Thornton exited mid-game after twisting his leg in a puck battle, and it looked ugly enough to wonder whether that’s the last we’ll see of the Sharks veteran this season. The 37-year-old hasn’t had the greatest of seasons, but it’d be a shame for one of his twilight years to end like this.

2. Jarome Iginla’s trade was for naught

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

We were wrong about Iginla. Well, we were right in thinking few teams would want the veteran winger at the trade deadline. But his production with Los Angeles surprised a lot of people: Iginla registered six goals and eight points in 15 games. But it didn’t matter. With a loss at home to the erstwhile Coyotes, the Kings were eliminated from the playoff race on Sunday.

3. The Western Conference is locked in

NHL: Nashville Predators at St. Louis Blues Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Nashville backed into the playoffs like so many Western Conference teams over the last week or so, losing to the Blues but clinching with the Kings’ loss late on Sunday.

And now the Western half of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is set with the eight teams heading to the dance. All that’s left is jockeying for position over the last week.

Impact Moment

I think Jonathan Quick is healthy.

Stat of the night:

Hey, remember when the Sharks were up on the Flames by 13 points two months ago? Now they’re up by only three.