Lightning (17-20-2, 36 Points) vs. Penguins (30-10-0, 60 Points)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network; AM 970 WFLA
Season Series: It’s the third and final meeting of the season between the two clubs, and the lone contest at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Pittsburgh has earned victories in each of the first two meetings, with wins coming on February 24 and March 4, both in Pittsburgh. With that said, the Lightning will be looking to snap a five-game losing streak against the Penguins, as the Bolts' last victory against Pittsburgh came on November 17, 2011 in Tampa Bay.
The Big Story: Coming off back-to-back losses, Tampa Bay rebounded with a victory on Tuesday night to stay alive in the playoff hunt and come within six points of the New York Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, locked up the Atlantic Division with a win over Carolina, and comes in with victories in two straight. If any team has momentum on its side, however, especially on home ice, it’s Tampa Bay, which looks to keep its points streak alive at the Times Forum, going 5-0-1 over its past six games in its own barn.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay plays host to the final home game of its two-game stint at the Times Forum, with the team set to embark on a four-game road trip following Thursday’s matchup. After earning two of a possible six points on the road, the Lightning returned home Tuesday to pull out a hard-fought 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators and get back on the winning track. Tampa Bay overcame an early one-goal deficit with goals from Vincent Lecavalier and Pierre-Cedric Labrie – the first of his NHL career – before Steven Stamkos snapped a 2-2 tie with 5:04 remaining in regulation that stood as the game-winner to give the Bolts the victory. Ben Bishop was sensational in his fourth consecutive start for the Lightning, making 31 saves to defeat his former team and help the Lightning stay alive in the chase for the postseason.
PENGUINS – Pittsburgh travels to Tampa Bay to continue on its three-game road trip, as Thursday’s matchup is the first of two in the Sunshine State, with an additional game against the Panthers slated for Saturday that will wrap up the swing. After coming two victories short of tying its own NHL-record 17-game winning streak set 20 years ago, the Penguins went on to drop two straight, but have since rebounded with a pair of victories. The most recent came on Tuesday in a 5-3 triumph over the Carolina Hurricanes. Even without captain Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh managed to receive contributions from its three newcomers, as Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Jussi Jokinen all marked the score sheet. Iginla and Jokinen each had assists and Morrow notched a goal to support secondary scoring by Robert Bortuzzo, Beau Bennett and Evgeni Malkin, while Pascal Dupuis added an empty-netter to cap the contest.
Who’s Hot: Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier had two goals and five points in his past three games, while Martin St. Louis is currently enjoying a two-game assist streak with three helpers in that span. Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis has collected a pair of goals and five points in his past three contests and Jussi Jokinen has also contributed a goal and an assist in his past pair of games.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Anders Lindback (Lower Body, Placed On Injured Reserve) and Victor Hedman (Lower Body). PENGUINS – Sidney Crosby (Jaw Surgery), Paul Martin (Injured Reserve) and Kris Letang (Injured Reserved).
Connections: Lightning forward Ryan Malone was drafted by the Penguins and spent four seasons with Pittsburgh prior to joining the Lightning in 2008. Mathieu Garon won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh the following year, in 2009. Penguins forward Jussi Jokinen once played for the Lightning, appearing in a Bolts sweater for parts of the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons after coming to Tampa Bay in the trade for Brad Richards.
Twitter Stat Pack: The Penguins (129 goals) and Lightning (123 goals) are two of the top three highest scoring teams in the NHL this season. Both teams have two players (Crosby and Stamkos) in the top five in the NHL scoring race, although Crosby is currently sidelined with no timetable for a return. The Lightning have scored four second period goals against the Penguins this season. Steven Stamkos has recorded three goals and two assists in two games against Pittsburgh this season, while Martin St. Louis has tallied three helpers. The Lightning and Penguins' rosters have a combined total of six players that were selected either first or second overall in the NHL Entry Draft (Stamkos, Hedman, Lecavalier, Crosby, Malkin and Fleury).
Notable Quotable: “The boys are learning how to win and what it takes. To see the guys laying out to block shots, you can just see the commitment level that was there the whole time.” – Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, on his contentment with his team following Tuesday’s win
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