Returning to the Stanley Cup Final will be a tall order without Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman, and Tampa Bay's playoff outlook will be even more bleak if Ryan Callahan and Victor Hedman's injuries carry beyond the regular season.
Having home-ice advantage in the first round could help a little, though.
The Lightning aren't sure if Callahan or Hedman will play Thursday night as they look to clinch second place in the Atlantic Division by beating the host New Jersey Devils.
Stamkos has missed the last three games and will be out at least a month after being diagnosed with blood clots. The loss of the two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner marked another devastating blow to Tampa Bay (45-30-5) after Stralman suffered a fractured left leg on March 25 that will keep him out into the postseason.
Callahan doesn't have a point in his last 12 games and sat out Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers with a lower-body injury. Hedman also didn't play because of an upper-body ailment, and there's a chance both will miss at least the final two games.
"I can't sit here and say if they are going to be back for the rest of the regular season or not," coach Jon Cooper said. "They might be. They might not be, so I'll give them a little rest here and re-evaluate."
The Lightning have dropped four of their last six after blowing a two-goal lead against the Rangers, but they clinched a playoff spot after Boston lost to Carolina. A victory against the Devils (37-35-8) or any combination of two points over their final two would guarantee they'd host their first two playoff games because they hold the first tiebreaker over both Detroit and the Bruins.
"We've got to get some wins, obviously," said center Brian Boyle, who scored Tuesday. "We need two points so we can get that two seed (in the Atlantic) and home-ice in that first round. We've got to feel good about our game though with a win."
Boyle scored in Saturday's 3-1 home win over New Jersey that marked Tampa's third straight in the series. Adam Henrique scored for the Devils, who have lost three straight while being eliminated from playoff contention.
They haven't scored more than twice during a 1-4-1 stretch, and five of their last six goals have come on the power play despite going just 1 for 6 with the man advantage in each of their last three.
''These games are about playing for each other,'' coach John Hynes said after Tuesday's 3-1 loss to Buffalo. ''They are about playing for the jersey, they are about playing for the organization. Things we've done all year long and taken pride in. We have to discuss why we had a performance like we had (Tuesday). We don't want to have a repeat.''
Patrik Elias played for the first time since Dec. 19 because of knee surgery rather than extend his rest period into the offseason. The Devils' all-time leading scorer broke in with the club in 1995-96 and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
''It wasn't that bad,'' said Elias, who turns 40 on April 13. ''Physically I was fine. Hockey-wise, I was a little rusty on a couple of the plays."
Cory Schneider has an .881 save percentage while dropping his last six starts despite making 33 saves against Tampa in the last meeting. He'll likely oppose Ben Bishop, who has stopped 90 of 94 shots with two shutouts while winning his last four against the Devils.