The Tampa Bay Lightning had things going their way for the large majority of the regular season.
But as the schedule reached the deep stretch, something is quite wrong with Jon Cooper's previously formidable team. The Lightning may be on the verge of coming up short in their battle for first place in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.
The Lightning lost 4-1 at home to the Western Conference-leading Nashville Predators. As a result, they failed to gain any ground on the Boston Bruins, who were defeated 4-3 in overtime at Philadelphia.
The Bruins own a two-point lead over the Lightning, and they have one game in hand over Tampa Bay. The two teams meet in Tampa Tuesday night, and if the Bruins complete a season sweep over the Lightning, they will own a four-point lead and their pursuers will have just two games left to play.
A victory would not clinch the top record in the division and the conference for the Bruins, as they could need one point in their final three games to put away the Lightning.
"We don't like to lose games, that's bottom line," said Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman, per Stats/AP (h/t CBSSports.com). "We want to win every game. But we are looking at the big picture and hopefully there is two or three months left in the season, we want to play the right way."
The Toronto Maple Leafs are solidly in third place in the Atlantic Division.
The Washington Capitals clinched the Metropolitan Division as a result of their 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday night. The Penguins are in second place and have clinched a playoff spot, while the Columbus Blue Jackets are in third place.
The Blue Jackets are trying to hold off the Philadelphia Flyers and the New Jersey Devils, both of whom are in the playoff picture as the No. 1 and 2 wild-card teams respectively.
In addition to Philadelphia's win over Boston, New Jersey got the best of the Montreal Canadiens, and that gives the Devils a seven-point cushion over the Florida Panthers. It looks like the Flyers and Devils are both in good shape to make the playoffs, while the Panthers are hanging on to their playoff hopes by a slim margin.
The Predators are in first place in the Central Division, and they have a seven-point lead over the second-place Winnipeg Jets. The Jets would need to sweep their remaining four games while the Preds gain no more than one point in their three remaining games to overtake Nashville for the Central Division crown.
The Minnesota Wild are in third place, and they are trying to hold off the Colorado Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues.
The expansion Vegas Golden Knights clinched the Pacific Division when they beat the second-place San Jose Sharks Saturday night, while the Anaheim Ducks are in third place.
Anaheim is trying to hold off the Los Angeles Kings for third place. The Kings and Avalanche are holding on to the two wild-card spots, but the St. Louis Blues are just one point behind the Avs and two points behind the Kings. The Blues have a game in hand on both teams.
The Dallas Stars are still technically in the chase for a playoff spot, but they have slumped badly in recent weeks and their opportunity is slipping away.
Here's a look at how the teams would line up for the playoffs as of Monday.
Boston Bruins (1) vs. New Jersey Devils (Wild Card 2)
Tampa Bay Lightning (2) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (3)
Washington Capitals (1) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (Wild Card 1)
Pittsburgh Penguins (2) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (3)
Nashville Predators (1) vs. Colorado Avalanche (Wild Card 2)
Winnipeg Jets (2) vs. Minnesota Wild (3)
Vegas Golden Knights (1) vs. Los Angeles Kings (Wild Card 1)
San Jose Sharks (2) vs. Anaheim Ducks (3)