Lightning (37-21-7, 81 Points) vs. Capitals (36-20-10, 82 Points)
Last 10: Tampa Bay (4-4-2); Washington (7-3-0)
Season Series: This is the sixth and final meeting between the two Southeast heavyweights and the 100th overall. Washington currently holds a 3-2 season series advantage, winning the first two meetings of the year at the Verizon Center and the most recent matchup on Feb. 4 at the St. Pete Times Forum. Tampa Bay got both of its wins coming in a pair of shutouts by Dwayne Roloson on Jan. 4 and Jan. 12.
The Big Story: First place is on the line tonight for both the Caps and Bolts. Tampa Bay has lost three straight and has dropped from third to fifth in the Eastern Conference standings after Washington, winners in four straight, took over the top spot in the Southeast Division with a 3-2 overtime win against the Panthers last night. A win, however, would allow the Lightning to retake sole possession of the division lead and march right back up to where the team has sat comfortably since it took over first place on Dec. 23.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay will play in its second game of four straight at home tonight against its division rivals. The Lightning would have liked to kick off the home stand in more favorable fashion on Saturday, but dropped a 4-2 decision to the Canadiens for their third straight loss. Head coach Guy Boucher said he was surprised at his team’s slow start to open the game, as it allowed two opposing goals through the first 20 minutes and didn’t find the back of the net itself to open the scoring for the first time in six games. Dominic Moore cut the early deficit in half on the power play, but the Lightning found themselves down 4-1 in the third before Vincent Lecavalier closed the scoring with his second goal in three games. Several players, including Lecavalier, acknowledged the team’s need for urgency coming down the final stretch of the regular season. Tampa Bay appeared to get it going in the late stages of Saturday’s game, as Lecavalier closed the gap on his goal that was just one of 45 total shots on the night, coming three off tying a season-high, many of which were well-executed scoring chances.
CAPITALS – Washington closes out a back-to-back set tonight after playing the first half last night in Sunrise against the Panthers. The Capitals will return back home following tonight’s game for a three-game home stand. After opening up its current two-game road set through Florida with a 3-2 overtime win against the Panthers last night, the Capitals come into Tampa Bay riding a four-game win streak, which has propelled them into first place in the division standings for the first time since Dec. 22. Alex Semin beat Scott Clemmensen in the extra period to give the Caps their longest win streak since after Thanksgiving.
Who’s Hot: Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier has been a consistent point producer since the middle of a record-tying 12-game home stand that spanned nearly the entire month of February, recording eight goals and 13 points in his last 11 games. Martin St. Louis also four goals and 13 points in his last 12, while Teddy Purcell has five points in his last six contests for the Bolts. Washington’s Alex Ovechkin is riding a four-game point streak with a goal and five assists in that span and four other players including Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Semin have two points in as many games.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Ryan Malone (mid body, out indefinitely, placed on Injured Reserve), Mike Lundin (mid body, out indefinitely, placed on Injured Reserve) and Steve Downie (lower body, day-to-day). CAPITALS – Mike Green (head), Tom Poti (groin), Eric Fehr (upper body) and Semyon Varlamov (knee).
Notable Quotable: “The danger is to get out of the course. The last thing we want to do is panic. When you start panicking, you sink lower. The urgency levels for the teams chasing at this time of year are much greater than the teams in front.” – Head coach Guy Boucher
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