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Last 10: Tampa Bay (5-5-0); Montreal (4-4-2)
Season Series: Montreal comes into the St. Pete Times Forum tonight for the second and final time in 2009-10. Tonight’s matchup between the two clubs is the third of four meetings overall this season, with the Lightning and Canadiens already having split a pair of games earlier this year with a win in the other’s home arena. Tampa Bay defeated Montreal on Nov. 7 at the Bell Centre, but Montreal picked up two points in Tampa Bay on Dec. 30 with an overtime victory. The Bolts and Habs will square off for the final time on Mar. 9 in Montreal.
The Big Story: Tampa Bay has been one of the hottest teams at home recently, posting a 6-1-1 record in its previous eight games at the St. Pete Times Forum. A large reason for that success is the goaltending of Mike Smith and Antero Niittymaki. Together, the Lightning net minders have combined to allow just 54 goals at home this season, which is good for the NHL’s third-best mark. In the absence of Mike Smith due to injury, Niittymaki has gone 3-1-0 in his last four starts with a 2.67 goals-against average and is 1-0-0 against Montreal this season with a .937 save percentage and a goals-against average of 1.00. Smith, on the other hand, is also unbeaten in regulation this year versus the Canadiens. He is now off the IR and cleared to play, although Niittymaki is expected to get the start. Perhaps the offense is taking a bit of the pressure off, as well. The Lightning have outscored the opposition 24-17 in the last eight at home, including Martin St. Louis who has a team-best four goals and four assists in those contests.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay enters tonight’s contest at the midway point of its current four-game home stretch. The Lightning have won three of the last four, including two in a row at home. The Bolts picked up a pair of points to open the stretch at the Times Forum on Jan. 21 with a 3-2 overtime win against Toronto. The trend continued on Saturday with a 2-1 shootout victory over the division rival Atlanta Thrashers. With the New York Rangers idle on yesterday’s schedule, the Lightning remain just three points out of the eighth position despite wins by Southeast foes Atlanta and Florida last night. The team is also seeking its first three-game win streak of the season and appear primed to do so with the team at full health as goaltender Mike Smith was removed from Injured Reserve. Defenseman David Hale, on the other hand, was reassigned to Norfolk (AHL) on a conditioning assignment.
CANADIENS – Tonight’s game marks the second half of a back-to-back swing for Montreal and the second-to-last stop on the team’s three-game road trip, which began with a 2-1 loss at Florida last night. The Canadiens held a 1-0 lead against the Panthers through two periods, but Florida struck twice in the final frame, netting the game-winner with seven minutes remaining in regulation. The Habs are 1-3-0 on the road so far in 2010 after finishing 2009 with a 6-1-0 record away from the Bell Centre, but come in against the Lightning having won two out of three.
- Steven Stamkos has two goals and three assists in his last five games, while Martin St. Louis has three points in his last four. Kurtis Foster and Ryan Malone each have also collected two points in as many contests.
- Montreal’s Mike Cammalleri has amassed five goals and three of assists in his last five, while Brian Gionta has recorded seven points in as many games. Benoit Pouliot also has four goals in four games for the Habs.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – None. CANADIENS – Andrei Kostitsyn (lower body) and Paul Mara (upper body).
Quotable: “It would be really important right now to win three, four, five in a row. Then, all of a sudden, you’re up in the standings three or four spots. It would be huge. We can do it. I can’t see why not.” – Lightning goaltender Antero Niittymaki
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