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Tonight’s 7:30 p.m. contest is the second and final meeting between the Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks this season. Tampa Bay won the first game of the series, 3-2, in a shootout on October 5, despite trailing 2-0 heading into the final frame. Valtteri Filppula scored the lone shootout goal on either side, for the Lightning’s first win of the season. Ben Bishop also earned his first of five straight victories and made 37 saves on 39 shots as the game’s third star.
The Big Story:
Tampa Bay ranks tied for first in the NHL with two third period comeback wins and with one of those coming against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks, the Lightning hope to get off to an early start Thursday now that they are four weeks deep into the season. The Lightning also attempt to remain undefeated against their Western Conference opponents, after beginning the season 3-0-0 and outscoring teams in the West by an 11-4 margin. The Bolts rank seventh-best for average goals per game with 3.12, while Chicago ranks sixth in the league in allowing the least on average a game at 2.11, which means the Lightning must capitalize on opportunities when they are given to come out of the tilt with a win.
LIGHTNING – After a rare four-day break in the action, the Bolts are looking for their sixth win in eight games. Yet to lose back-to-back games in 2013-14, the Lightning were handed their first shutout of the season, compliments of a 5-0 whitewash led by goaltender Tuuka Rask and the Boston Bruins. The dropped decision served as a wake-up call for where the Bolts currently stand among some tough competition in the Atlantic Division.
However, the team had what head coach Jon Cooper called the best practices of the year leading up to Thursday and even took a break from the ice for a team bonding event on Tuesday. The Lightning finish out a season-long, seven-game homestand with a pair of games tonight and Saturday and have captured six of a possible 10 points thus far.
They then head to Sunrise, Florida to complete their first set of back-to-backs this season versus the Panthers on Sunday and open up a three-game road trip along the way. Tampa Bay is among the middle of the pack in the division with 10 points and trails the first place Toronto Maple Leafs by four, despite Toronto having two games in hand.
BLACKHAWKS – The Blackhawks’ historic start last season was not quite mimicked this year, albeit Chicago has only lost one game in regulation so far. Looking for their third straight win tonight, the Blackhawks have won five of their past six, but it has not come without putting in some extra time, as three of their of those contests and a total of four this season have gone to a shootout.
Chicago still remains a top-contender in the Western Conference’s Central Division though, trailing a very hot Colorado Avalanche team by two points. The Blackhawks finish the second half of their Florida tour Thursday, before returning to home ice for a set of home-and-homes with the Minnesota Wild beginning on Saturday.
Steven Stamkos has five goals and three assists for eight points over his past five games and also is tied for the lead in points (10) on the Lightning along with fellow linesman Martin St. Louis. The Blackhawks Bryan Bickell has tallied a goal in two straight games.
10/16 – Recalled F Brett Connolly from Syracuse (AHL)
10/19 – Reassigned F Brett Connolly to Syracuse (AHL)
Twitter Stat Pack:
The #TBLightning’s @RadkoGudas ranks tied for seventh in the @NHL for hits with 34 through eight games this season.
The #TBLightning’s penalty kill has not allowed a power-play goal against in three straight games, killing off all 11 opportunities during that stretch.
With 10 points (four goals, six assists) to start the season, the #TBLightning’s Martin St. Louis is tied with @RealStamkos91 for the team lead in points.
Starting the season 5-1-0 through six starts, @BenBishop30 has allowed more than two goals in a game only once this season.
The #Bolts rank tied for sixth in the @NHL with 19 goals on home ice, despite playing just five games at the @TBTimesForum so far.
“Whatever the result is against Chicago and Buffalo, I’m not going to pin it on how our day was yesterday. This is long term the way we do things here. There are changes going on and this is part of them and we are not going to be able to judge by this weekend, but the long term is going to help.” – Head coach Jon Cooper on closing out the week
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