Lightning (37-21-8, 82 Points) vs. Blackhawks (37-24-6, 80 Points)
Last 10: Tampa Bay (3-4-3); Chicago (8-2-0)
Season Series: Tonight’s game is the first of two meetings on the year between the clubs. The two teams last met on Dec. 13, 2009 in a game that saw the Blackhawks earn a 4-0 shutout at the United Center. The clubs will meet again next month on Apr. 3 to round out the season series.
The Big Story: It seems Tampa Bay just can’t get a break in its schedule. Tonight will be the fourth consecutive game the Lightning have played against a team that held a playoff spot no lower than sixth in each conference. It doesn’t make it any easier that the Lightning will look to play the role of spoiler once again. After facing off against Phoenix and New Jersey, both of which had eight-game win streaks, and following meetings with Boston and Washington, who had stretches of six and four consecutive wins, respectively, Tampa Bay will go up against a hot Blackhawks team that has won eight of the last nine. The Lightning have dropped from second to fifth in the East during the last week, but look to snap a four-game skid with a win that would keep them at most two points behind Washington.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay hosts Chicago tonight in the second-to-last contest of a three-game home stand. This evening’s game is the first of three in four days for the Lightning, as the team will wrap up the home swing on Friday against Ottawa before traveling down south to Sunrise to face the Panthers in the latter half of a back-to-back set. Tampa Bay’s strong efforts each night have not been translating into wins, coming as a result of bad bounces and hard-luck breaks the other way more so than poor play. The Bolts dominated the Capitals for nearly 55 minutes Monday night, but dropped a 2-1 contest in the shootout, while also earning a big point that kept them two back of Washington for the division lead. Sean Bergenheim and Dwayne Roloson set the Lightning up nicely through the first two and half periods, giving Tampa Bay a strong chance to close out a win, but Alex Semin tied the game with under six minutes to play and Alex Ovechkin notched the game-winner in the tiebreaker after a controversial call in which the officials disallowed a Vincent Lecavalier goal shifted the tide in the Capitals’ favor.
BLACKHAWKS – Chicago will play the second-to-last game on a four-game road trip that includes three games against Southeast opponents. The Blackhawks have been the hottest team in the Western Conference as of late, coming in as winners of eight straight in a stretch that has helped vault them from 11th place on Feb. 14 into fourth entering tonight. Chicago completed the first half of the club’s back-to-back set last night in Sunrise, falling 3-2 to the Panthers in regulation. The Blackhawks finished the final two periods strong, but a sluggish start allowed Florida to jump out to a 3-0 lead in the first 20 minutes. Not even outshooting the Panthers 29-7 in the final 40 minutes was enough to prevent the streak-busting loss.
Who’s Hot: Vincent Lecavalier has eight goals in his last 12 games and Dominic Moore has pitched in two goals and three points in his last four contests. For the Blackhawks, Marian Hossa brings in the league’s longest active points streak at eight games, and Chicago captain Jonathan Toews has points in nine of his last 10 after having a nine-game points streak snapped last night against the Panthers.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Ryan Malone (mid body, out indefinitely, placed on Injured Reserve), Mike Lundin (mid body, out indefinitely, placed on Injured Reserve), Steve Downie (lower body, day-to-day), Marc-Andre Bergeron (back spasms, day-to-day) and Randy Jones (lower body, out indefinitely). BLACKHAWKS – Jordan Hendry (knee surgery) and Fernando Pisani (concussion).
Quotable: “I’m very happy with what we’re doing. I have a lot of respect for the players’ work ethic, drive and dedication, but it’s been a tough week. Our guys are doing what they have to do to win, but it’s not going our way. That’s when we continue to battle and continue to persist.” – Head coach Guy Boucher on the recent play of his team
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