Lightning (37-20-7, 81 Points) vs. Canadiens (35-23-7, 77 Points)
Last 10: Tampa Bay (4-4-2); Montreal (5-3-2)
Season Series: The Lightning and Canadiens face off in the third of four total meetings tonight. Tampa Bay currently holds a 2-0 series edge after winning consecutive games against Montreal, first on Oct. 13 and again on Dec. 30. The season series wraps up in two weeks with the fourth and final matchup coming Mar. 17 at the Bell Centre.
The Big Story: If the postseason were to begin today, Tampa Bay and Montreal would face off in a quarterfinal matchup as the two teams come into tonight with the third and sixth seeds, respectively, in the Eastern Conference. After holding the second spot for a number of consecutive weeks, a setback at the hands of the Boston Bruins in the team’s last game shifted the Lightning down to third in the standings. The Canadiens enter tonight following three straight victories and stand just four points behind Tampa Bay.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay completed a three-game road trip Thursday night in Boston and returns home to kick off a four-game swing at the St. Pete Times Forum. The Lightning have dropped two straight overall and have played four consecutive games each decided by a 2-1 score, including the most recent outing in Boston Thursday night. While the result wasn’t favorable, the play of goaltender Mike Smith certainly was a bright spot in a loss that was more of a result of a few bad bounces than it was a poor effort. Tampa Bay opened the game’s scoring for the sixth consecutive time and generated a number of opportune scoring chances, but it was Smith who kept it close down to the very end, yielding a fluky game-winning goal to Milan Lucic with under four minutes remaining. The Lightning goaltender ended the night with 26 saves in his first start since Dec. 18, many of which came on a number of Bruins’ prime scoring opportunities. Eric Brewer had the lone goal for Tampa Bay, his first in a Lightning uniform, and Blair Jones, recalled from Norfolk earlier in the day due to the team’s growing injury list, notched an assist on the goal.
CANADIENS – The road has been kind to Montreal to kick off the month of March. The Habs have opened the month with three straight wins, two of which were on the road, and come into Tampa Bay tonight to conclude a three-game road stretch. The Canadiens will get just one game at home following tonight before heading out again for an additional pair of contests in St. Louis and Pittsburgh. The return of Mike Cammalleri back from injury has certainly helped the team’s current win streak, as has the play of Carey Price, who has won three of the last four decisions including a shutout Thursday night against the Panthers. Andrei Kostitsyn and Lars Eller each had a goal and an assist in the win, while Hal Gil also found the back of the net, recording his first goal in 100 games.
Who’s Hot: The Lightning’s Martin St. Louis has nine goals and 13 points in his last 11 games and Steve Downie has turned in assists in three of the last four games. Montreal’s Andrei Kostitsyn has three goals and seven points, including a pair of game-winners, in the last five games.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Ryan Malone (mid body, out indefinitely, placed on Injured Reserve), Mike Lundin (mid body, out indefinitely, placed on Injured Reserve), Marc-Andre Bergeron (back spasms, day-to-day), Vincent Lecavalier (mid body, day-to-day) and Steve Downie (lower body, day-to-day). CANADIENS – Jaroslav Spacek (knee surgery, out 4-6 weeks), Mathieu Darche (groin), Josh Gorges (knee) and Andrei Markov (knee).
Notable Quotable: “We battled hard all game, and it was a tight game. They got the extra bounce and we didn’t.” – Mike Smith, on a well-played Lightning effort and the difference in a win and a loss Thursday night against Boston
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