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Lightning (20-10-5, 45 Points) at Thrashers (19-13-5, 43 Points)
Last 10: Tampa Bay (6-2-2); Atlanta (5-3-2)
Season Series: Tonight’s matchup at Philips Arena is the fourth of six meetings this season between the two Southeast Division rivals. Tampa Bay has swept the first three games so far this year, earning victories in its home arena on Oct. 9 and Dec. 15, as well as an additional contest in Atlanta on Oct. 22.
The Big Story: Tampa Bay vaulted into first place in the division with a win in its last game and has won eight consecutive games over Atlanta dating back to last season. It hopes to make it nine tonight in order to gain separation atop the Southeast Division standings. Just two points separate the Lightning and Thrashers from the top spot in the division, as Tampa Bay comes in with 45 points in first place, while the Thrashers are not far behind in second with 43.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay wraps up a three-game road trip tonight at Philips Arena against the Thrashers. The Lightning have gained points in each of their last seven games, including two straight to remain unbeaten in regulation on their current swing away from home. They opened the trip on Wednesday with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Islanders before rebounding with a 4-3 shootout win versus the Rangers just the very next night. Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis each had goals for the Lightning in regulation Thursday night before Ryan Malone won the contest in the 11th round of the shootout. Head Coach Guy Boucher was more than pleased with the win, as the team met one of its short-term goals to sit atop the Southeast standings in first place before the Christmas break. The Bolts have also received stellar play from goaltender Dan Ellis lately, as he is 2-0-1 in his last three starts with a 1.91 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage.
THRASHERS – Atlanta has not played more than one consecutive home game since it hosted two in a row from Dec. 16-18. The team returned home from Boston the night before Christmas Eve and comes in to its home arena tonight to take on the Lightning before hitting the road again Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. The Thrashers have lost four of the last six games since they last faced off against the Lightning on Dec. 15 in Tampa Bay, with the latest defeat coming against the Bruins on Thursday. Dustin Byfuglien had the lone goal for Atlanta, but that was not enough to overcome a 3-0 deficit through two periods. The Thrashers also come into tonight with losses in three of their last four at home.
Who’s Hot: Martin St. Louis has led the way recently for Tampa Bay with eight points in his last four games. Steven Stamkos also has four points in as many games for the Lightning, while Ryan Malone enters tonight with points in 10 of his last 12 games. Atlanta’s Dustin Byfuglien and Bryan Little each come in with four points in their last three contests, while second-year forward Evander Kane has points in two straight.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Steve Downie (ankle sprain, out indefinitely, placed on Injured Reserve) and Mike Smith (minor knee injury, out 2 weeks, placed on Injured Reserve); THRASHERS – Zach Bogosian (upper body)
Notable Quotable: “When we go after something, we get it. It really shows how much character these guys have.” – Head Coach Guy Boucher, following Thursday’s 4-3 shootout win over the Rangers that lifted Tampa Bay into first place in the Southeast Division.
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