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Preseason Series: Thursday’s game at the Bell Centre marks the first of two contests to be played north of the border between the two teams. Following Thursday’s game, the clubs will reconvene at Colisee Pepsi in Quebec City on Saturday to conclude each team’s respective preseason campaigns. This evening’s contest also marks just the third time throughout each club’s history that the two will face each other in an exhibition game, and the first instance since the Habs earned a 4-3 overtime victory over the Bolts back on Sept. 26, 2006. Prior to that meeting, the Lightning and Canadiens first met the previous season in 2005 in a 6-1 Montreal win.
The Big Story: Tampa Bay comes into Thursday’s game with two consecutive victories, while Montreal has yet to win a game regulation during the preseason. On Sunday, the Bolts trimmed their training camp roster by 27 players, leaving 26 to compete in the final two preseason games of the exhibition season. Of those 26, perhaps none have been quite the pleasant surprise as Brett Connolly has. Connolly scored a goal in the team’s last outing, a 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers on Saturday, and continues to prove his worth as he, among others, is making it difficult for Lightning brass to assemble the final team for the season opener on Oct.7.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay will play tonight for the first time in five days after earning back-to-back wins against the Panthers last week, with the most recent coming in a 5-3 victory on Saturday night at the BankAtlantic Center. Despite the long hiatus in between games, the team departed for Quebec on Monday to participate in some team building activities designed by head coach Guy Boucher to build chemistry among current players as well as new ones. The team also has been holding daily practices to prepare for the final two preseason contests, which will provide a good gauge for management and coaches as to who will compete for the final few roster spots as the regular season quickly approaches. Even far away from home, the Bolts received a warm welcome as they arrived at the practice rink in the Quebec resort town, as a good number of fans filled the seats to catch a rare glimpse of NHL action.
CANADIENS – Montreal is looking to snap a skid in which it has lost three straight and has been outscored 12-6 in that span. The lack of success could be attributed in part due to a rigorous schedule in which Montreal has played games on four consecutive nights. Prior to the four-game stretch, the Habs endured a back-to-back set before getting just one day off to rest in between. It has not all been bad, however, as Montreal did pick up a win in the shootout against Ottawa on Friday night, winning 4-3 behind a pair of goals from Max Pacioretti and additional tallies from Scott Gomez and Erik Cole. Despite the win, there potentially is some concern stemming from the fact the Canadiens have yet to win in regulation this preseason and have been deficient in goal scoring, finding the back of the net just 14 times while opponents have lit the lamp against Montreal a total of 24 times.
Who To Watch For: Lightning prospect Brett Connolly is succeeding in not only helping his team win, but in impressing team management as well. Connolly was not included the team’s largest cut to date of the 2011 preseason, as he continues to battle for a final roster spot. Also worth keeping in eye on is Lightning forward Mattias Ritola, who has excelled in preseason play recently, most notably on Saturday when he became just the fourth Lightning player in the last three preseasons to record three points in a single exhibition game.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Scott Jackson (off season knee surgery, out indefinitely), CANADIENS - None reported.
Notable Quotable: “he way you weigh it out is the caring, that is how you measure it. The more guys know, the more guys feel, the more guys learn, the more they care and that is something that is measurable. We say it’s part of the intangibles, but it’s something you can measure because you hear it on the bench, you see it on the ice, you see it in practice, you see it off the ice when guys go do things together and you see it from their reactions. It’s something I feel that I’ve been able to measure over the years so I pay major attention to it and we work a lot on it.” – Head coach Guy Boucher, on the importance of team building activities.