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The Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars have established themselves as two of the best teams in their respective conferences. Now they'll get the chance to see how they measure up against each other.
Two of the NHL's hottest teams face off Tuesday at the St. Pete Times Forum in their only meeting of the season.
The Lightning (36-25-3) lead the Southeast Division and are 17-4-1 in the last 22 games, including a 5-1 victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday. The 2004 Stanley Cup champions haven't lost back-to-back games since Dec. 26-28.
"We've talked about this time of the year not to lose two in a row and bounce back," said Lightning forward Martin St. Louis, who had a goal and an assist. "We've done that for a while now. That's key."
St. Louis and Tampa Bay center Vincent Lecavalier have been the biggest keys for their team, as the players give the Lightning two of the league's top offensive threats. St. Louis has 38 goals and a team-leading 85 points, while Lecavalier is one point behind and has scored an NHL-high 41 goals.
Center Brad Richards, third on the Lightning with 60 points, recorded a goal and three assists Sunday to extend his point streak to eight games, with three goals and 12 assists during that stretch. Lecavalier has a streak of the same length, with seven goals and seven assists over that span.
Tampa Bay is concluding a three-game stretch at the St. Pete Times Forum and has won six of its last seven home games. Maintaining that momentum may be a challenge, as the Lightning have dropped seven straight home meetings with Dallas (37-21-3), getting outscored 22-9.
The Stars are coming off an impressive 2-1 overtime victory against Vancouver on Sunday. Dallas defenseman Philippe Boucher forced the extra period on a power-play goal with 29 seconds left in regulation, and Jere Lehtinen scored 4:17 into overtime on another power play.
The Stars outshot Vancouver 36-18, including 20-6 over the third period and overtime, to improve to 11-3-2 since a three-game skid.
"One thing we talked about before the game was to stay with the game," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "Give credit to our team. They hung around and stuck with it."
Lehtinen stuck with it through a rough start to the season, and has recorded 14 of his team-high 21 goals in the last 24 games - twice as many as he scored in the first 32 contests.
"At the beginning of the season I couldn't score anywhere," Lehtinen said. "If you try hard enough, you get these."
Stars goaltender Marty Turco made the Lightning work hard in his first four career appearances against them, going 3-0-0 with a 1.36 goals-against average. He struggled in the teams' only meeting last season, though, giving up four goals on seven shots before being pulled in a 6-3 loss on Jan. 20, 2006.
Ryan Craig had a goal and two assists to lead Tampa Bay in that win, while Darryl Sydor added a goal and an assist. Sydor has since been traded to the Stars and will face his former team for the first time.
Sydor will soon have a new teammate on the blue line, as the Stars obtained defenseman Mattias Norstrom from Los Angeles on Tuesday along with right wing Konstantin Pushkarev and two draft picks for defenseman Jaroslav Modry and three draft choices.
Norstrom, the Kings' captain since 2002, is the team's career leader in games played among defensemen with 780. The 13-year veteran has two goals, seven assists and 40 penalty minutes in 62 games this season.
Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella, who recorded his 200th win with the team Sunday, said Shane O'Brien will make his Lightning debut Tuesday. The defenseman was acquired from Anaheim on Saturday and had two goals, 12 assists and 140 penalty minutes in 62 games with the Ducks.
Dallas may again be without center Eric Lindros, who has missed six straight games as he recovers from the flu and an undisclosed lower-body injury.