Lightning (17-22-4, 38 Points) at Canadiens (26-12-5, 57 Points)
TV/Radio: Fox Sports Florida HD; AM 970 WFLA
Season Series: This is the third and final meeting of the season between the Bolts and the Habs. Thus far this season, the Canadiens have taken each of the first two meetings, both in Tampa Bay, winning the first by a 4-3 margin in the shootout on February 12 and following it up with another victory on March 9 by the same score, but in regulation.
The Big Story: The Lightning have dropped four straight, but look to avoid getting swept on their four-game road trip, with Thursday’s game being the final contest of the swing before the team returns home to Tampa Bay. It’s not like the team has come away with nothing, however, as it has picked up a pair of points so far on the trip as a result of two losses in extra time. Montreal, meanwhile, sits comfortably in the fourth spot in the postseason playoff picture with 57 points, despite entering tonight’s game with three straight losses from which it looks to rebound.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay wraps up a four-game road trip in Montreal, with the team returning home to take on Carolina on Sunday, with that contest serving as one of just four remaining games on the regular season schedule. The Bolts have had mild success thus far on their swing away from home, going 0-1-2, picking up a pair of points in a pair of games which straddled Sunday’s 3-1 regulation loss at Buffalo. On Tuesday, the Lightning showed their resilient character again, coming back from a 3-1 deficit at Winnipeg to see Steven Stamkos tie the game in the third period and send things into extra time. Following a scoreless overtime session however, Jets forward Mike Santorelli had the game-winner in the skills competition, while at the other end, neither Teddy Purcell nor Richard Panik could solve goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who made 24 stops for Winnipeg’s fourth consecutive victory.
CANADIENS – Montreal completes the second half of a back-to-back set, following last night’s 6-4 loss to the Penguins. The defeat was Montreal’s third straight in which it gave up five or more goals to the opposition. Brian Gionta, Alex Galchenyuk, Gabriel Dumont and Andrei Markov each scored, but in spite of that, it was a tough climb back after being down 3-0 to Pittsburgh after the first period alone. All of Montreal’s goals came in the final two periods, but the comeback effort fell short, exacerbated by the fact that Carey Price came into the game in relief of Peter Budaj, on a night Price was supposed to have off after he allowed 12 total goals in two previous blowout losses to Toronto and Philadelphia.
Who’s Hot: For the Lightning, Martin St. Louis has notched three goals in his past three games, and Steven Stamkos has registered points in four of his past five, with two goals and as many assists in that span. Montreal’s Max Pacioretty has a goal and three points in two games, while Lars Eller is riding a two game assist streak with three helpers in that span.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Anders Lindback (Lower Body, Placed On Injured Reserve) and Tom Pyatt (Upper Body). CANADIENS – Michael Ryder (Upper Body), Alexei Emelin (Knee), Raphael Diaz (Concussion) and Colby Armstrong (Knee).
Connections: Benoit Pouliot, Tom Pyatt and Mathieu Garon are all former members of the Canadiens, while Lightning assistant Dan Lacroix served behind the bench for Montreal's top minor-league affiliate of the American Hockey League, the Hamilton Bulldogs, during the 2009-10 season.
Twitter Stat Pack: The Canadiens have won both games against the Lightning this season, by 4-3 margins, with the game on February 12 being decided in a shootout. The Lightning will be looking to get their first win in Montreal since October 13, 2010. The Lightning have scored at least two goals in a game in 15 of their past 16 games. Montreal has given up 18 goals over its past three contests. Prior to Alex Ovechkin taking the NHL scoring lead last Saturday, Steven Stamkos had either led or been tied for the league lead in goals since February 22, 2013.
Notable Quotable: “No matter where I’ve gone, I’ve always had the same philosophy. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to mold a group the way you want them and it’s tough to come into a situation with 14 games left, but the benefit of this is really getting to know the players. The process is going to be slow, but I’m glad it’s starting now.” – Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, on his experience this season and looking ahead to the future
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