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Panthers drop to third in the Central after Lightning beat Stars

Cats will need to best Bolts at least once to finish second

Dallas Stars v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning took advantage of one its games in hand on the Florida Panthers, defeating the Dallas Stars by a 6-2 count at Amalie Arena to move into second place in the Atlantic Division.

Both of the Sunshine State’s NHL teams have amassed 75 points, but Bolts still have a game to play against Dallas on Friday before finishing off the regular season with pair against the now third place Cats at BB&T Center.

Tampa Bay can still max out at 81 points (and win the division forcing a Florida at Carolina series, but the odds of that are remote) while can the best the Panthers can do is 79. The math now strongly favors the Lightning gaining home-ice advantage for the almost certain series with the Panthers, with Money Puck giving the Bolts a 57.1% chance of finishing second this morning. Florida’s chances of a second place finish dropped from 51.1% to 39.6% after last night’s unfavorable result.

So, the Cats will some have work to do in Games 55 and 56 if they want to be the host team in the first round of the playoffs.

Let’s take a revised look at the three possible positions the Panthers will find themselves at week’s end heading into Saturday’s game as the permutations have simplified.

If the Lightning beats the Stars again on Friday, the Panthers must win both of the games against Tampa Bay to finish in second place, and least one of the wins will have to be in regulation time.

If Tampa Bay gains a point with an overtime/shootout loss against Dallas, the Panthers still need to win both games, but they can go to extra time in both cases if necessary.

If the Lightning lose to the Stars in regulation (crossing fingers), the Panthers will have to collect at least three points over the two-game set with the win needing to be in regulation to finish in second place.

So, if the Bolts lose on Friday in regulation, the Panthers can afford an overtime/shootout loss on Saturday and still have a shot at the two seed. if the Lightning gain any points in the standings on Friday, they force Florida into a must-win situation on Saturday.

As for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central, the Nashville Predators remain in the driver’s seat, despite losing in regulation to Columbus last night. Their magic number for clinching a playoff spot is down to two and Money Puck now gives them a 94.9% chance of making the postseason.

The Stars must pick up at least one point at Amalie Arena on Friday or they will be eliminated from contention.