Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) stops Tampa Bay Lightning center Nate Thompson (44) on a breakaway in overtime of Game 1 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series on Wednesday, April 16, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. The Canadiens won the game 5-4. (AP
Chris O'Meara
April 17, 2014

Twelve years and a pair of lockouts separate Tampa Bay from its last division title, when a 14-year-old Steven Stamkos watched the Lightning hoist their only Stanley Cup.

Tampa proved last year that winning the Atlantic certainly isn't a prerequisite to play for the silver chalice by eliminating division-champion Montreal on its way to the Final, but home-ice advantage through the first two rounds certainly would benefit a team that has lost only four regulation games at Amalie Arena in 2016.

Tampa Bay can clinch the division's tiebreaker over its Sunshine State rival with a regulation or overtime victory Thursday night against a Canadiens team has won the first two matchups this season.

The Lightning (44-27-5) won the Southeast in 2003-04 before beating Calgary in seven games to win the Cup. They haven't finished better than second in their division since, with a franchise-record 108 points in 2014-15 falling two behind Montreal.

Tampa won the second-round series with the Canadiens in six games despite not having the home-ice edge and won the Eastern Conference before losing Chicago in the Final. It has gone 15-4-1 at home in the new year, though, and is inching closer to have an advantage over Florida for the Atlantic title.

A victory over the Canadiens (35-36-6) would secure the tiebreaker with more victories in regulation or overtime over the Panthers, who also have 93 points to tie for the division lead. Tampa Bay has six more such wins, and after Thursday, both clubs will have five games remaining.

The Lightning have won four of their last five, with the lone defeat coming to Florida on Saturday. They bounced back with Monday's 3-0 win over Toronto as Ben Bishop made 34 saves.

Tampa completes a six-game homestand Saturday against New Jersey.

"A lot of things we need to work on," said Stamkos, who had two assists. "We will take the win, especially at this point of the year when points are critical, but I can't sit here and honestly say that was a great effort from us. We have to thank Bish for sure for giving us a chance to win this game ultimately."

Valtteri Filppula returned from injury after missing the previous six, but Ryan Callahan sat out his fifth straight and Nikita Kucherov missed his second in a row as they both battle lower-body injuries.

It's unclear if they'll return against Montreal, which is trying to play spoiler after being eliminated from postseason contention. It dropped six of its previous eight before dealing Detroit a blow to its playoff hopes with Tuesday's 4-3 win.

Max Pacioretty opened the scoring in the first, then broke the tie in the third with his 27th goal of the season. P.K. Subban sat out for the ninth straight contest with a neck injury, but he's reportedly close to returning.

''The games we've won through this bad stretch have been against some very good teams," Pacioretty said. "Sometimes you're able to surprise teams like that. First-place teams tend to take their foot off the gas late in the year.''

The Lightning won the previous seven regular-season meetings before Pacioretty's shootout goal gave the Canadiens a 4-3 victory Dec. 28. Tomas Plekanec scored in that contest then had two goals and an assist in a 4-2 victory over Tampa on Feb. 9.

Bishop took the loss in both matchups after posting a 1.41 goals-against average while winning his previous seven regular-season starts against Montreal.

Mike Condon made 36 saves for the Canadiens in the first meeting and could be in net again despite a 3.89 GAA over his last six starts.

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