NHL On Tap: Panthers, Lightning compete for first in Central Division

Panthers, Lightning battle for first 

Forward Nikita Gusev and defenseman Brandon Montour are each expected to debut for the Florida Panthers at the Tampa Bay Lightning (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS, BSFL, NHL.TV). Gusev agreed to a one-year contract with the Panthers on Sunday after being placed on waivers by the Devils on April 1 and could play in Florida’s top six with forward Carter Verhaeghe week to week because of an upper-body injury. Montour was traded to the Panthers by the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday and can help fill the void left by top defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who’s out long term after having surgery on a leg fracture. But this is more than new players making their debuts. The Lightning and Panthers are in a three-way tie with the Carolina Hurricanes for first in the eight-team Discover Central Division. The top four teams in the division will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. — Pete Jensen, senior fantasy editor


Newcomers key Islanders-Bruins matchup

The New York Islanders and Boston Bruins were two of the more active teams prior to the NHL Trade Deadline on Monday, and new players on each side will be in the spotlight during the game in Boston (7 p.m. ET; SN360, NESN, MSG+, NHL.TV). Forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac have fit in nicely in two games with the Islanders since being acquired from the New Jersey Devils on April 8. Palmieri scored his first goal with New York and Zajac had three shots on goal in a 3-2 victory against the New York Rangers on Sunday. The Bruins landed Taylor Hall in a trade with the Sabres on Monday and the left wing is expected to be a nice complement to Boston’s top line of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Hall made his Bruins debut Tuesday and had three shots on goal in 16:43 of ice time in a 3-2 shootout win against the Sabres. With less than a month to go in the regular season, it’s a big game in the standings with the Islanders second in the eight-team MassMutual East Division, two points behind the first-place Washington Capitals, and the Bruins in fourth place, eight behind the Islanders and four ahead of the fifth-place New York Rangers. — Mike Zeisberger, staff writer


Red Wings playing spoiler role

The Detroit Red Wings are looking to play the role of spoiler down the stretch and can do some damage to the playoff hopes of the Chicago Blackhawks when they host their Central Division rival (7:30 p.m. ET; BSDET, NBCSCH, NHL.TV). The Red Wings swept a two-game set against the second-place Hurricanes and play their next two games against the fifth-place Blackhawks, who are four points behind the fourth-place Nashville Predators. Adam Erne will look to extend his NHL career-high point streak to eight games for the Red Wings. The right wing scored a goal in a 3-1 win at the Hurricanes on Monday and has seven points (five goals, two assists) during the run. Patrick Kane had two assists for the Blackhawks in a 4-3 overtime win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday, and has scored five points (one goal, four assists) in his past four games. Chicago has outscored Detroit 25-12 in six games this season (5-1-0). — Mike G. Morreale, staff writer


Thursday schedule

New York Islanders at Boston Bruins, 7 p.m. ET (SN360, NESN, MSG+, NHL.TV)

Goalie Tuukka Rask is expected to start his first game for the Bruins since he was removed after the first period of a 4-3 overtime loss to the Islanders on March 25 with an upper-body injury. The 34-year-old is 17-7-1 with a 1.91 goals-against average, .936 save percentage and two shutouts in 27 starts against New York, which is 5-0-0 against Boston this season.

New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers, 7 p.m. ET (MSG, MSG+ 2, NHL.TV)

The Rangers are 10-4-3 in their past 17 games chasing the Bruins in the East with 14 games left. They’re led offensively by center Mika Zibanejad (22 points; 12 goals, 10 assists in his past 15 games) and forwards Artemi Panarin (28 points; eight goals, 20 assists in his past 17) and Pavel Buchnevich (17 points; nine goals, eight assists in his past 16). The Devils are in the role of spoiler; they are 2-7-2 in their past 11 games and seventh in the division. 

Buffalo Sabres at Washington Capitals, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSWA, MSG-B, NHL.TV)

The Capitals have scored 18 goals during a three-game winning streak. Center Nicklas Backstrom is set to play his 1,000th NHL game, all for Washington, and forward Alex Ovechkin is three goals from tying Marcel Dionne (731) for fifth in NHL history. The Sabres are last in the NHL in points (27) and points percentage (.321), but 4-2-3 in their past seven games.

Nashville Predators at Carolina Hurricanes, 7 p.m. ET (BSSO, NHL.TV)

The Predators are 13-3-0 since March 15 and have climbed from sixth in the Central Division to fourth, four points ahead of the fifth-place Blackhawks. The Hurricanes are tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers for first in the eight-team division despite consecutive losses to the last-place Red Wings. 

Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN, TVAS, BSFL, NHL.TV)

The Lightning begin a season-long six-game homestand with nine of their remaining 14 regular-season games scheduled to be played on home ice and winners of 10 of their past 11 against the Panthers at Amalie Arena. Florida captain Aleksander Barkov has scored seven points (five goals, two assists) in six games since returning from an injury April 3 and 25 points (five goals, 20 assists) in 30 games against Tampa Bay.

Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET (ATTSN-PT, NBCSP, NHL.TV)

Jeff Carter is expected to make his Penguins debut after the center was traded to Pittsburgh by the Los Angeles Kings on Monday. The 36-year-old was chosen with the No. 11 pick in the 2003 NHL Draft and played his first six NHL seasons for the Flyers. Philadelphia is 8-13-3 since an 11-4-3 start to fall into sixth place in the East, six points behind fourth-place Boston and 12 behind third-place Pittsburgh. 

Winnipeg Jets at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET (TSN4, TSN3, NHL.TV)

The Jets end a five-game road trip one day after a 3-2 win at the Ottawa Senators. Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner is one assist from joining Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid (46) and Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane (40) with 40 this season.

Chicago Blackhawks at Detroit Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. ET (BSDET, NBCSCH, NHL.TV)

New Blackhawks forward Brett Connolly has scored seven goals against the Red Wings in the past five seasons. Chicago has won five of its first six games against Detroit this season. Forward Jakub Vrana, acquired in a trade with the Washington Capitals on Monday, is expected to make his Red Wings debut.  

Columbus Blue Jackets at Dallas Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+, BSSW+, BSOH, NHL.TV)

The Stars are 3-2-1 this season gainst the Blue Jackets, who trail sixth-place Dallas by three points in the Central but the fourth-place Predators by 10 and are 2-8-2 since March 21.

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