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Season Series: The Lightning and Wild are meeting for the first and only time this season. Last year, the two clubs split a pair of matches, with the visiting club taking a game each.
The Big Story: Tampa Bay swept a back-to-back home and home series against the division-leading Panthers over the weekend, closing the gap to just four points that now separate the Lightning from their in-state rivals at the top of the Southeast. With the Capitals in a slide of their own, losing six of their past eight games, Monday’s matchup with the Wild presents the Lightning with a prime opportunity to gain ground on the two clubs they are chasing in front of them.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay kicks off a two-game road trip that sweeps through the central part of the country as it takes on a pair of Western Conference opponents. Following Monday’s bout in Minnesota, the Bolts will travel to Detroit to take on the Red Wings on Wednesday night. Tampa Bay has won two straight games, and after an up and down start to the year, as evidenced by the team’s performance in each of those victories, it finally appears as if the Lightning have settled in. The most recent came Saturday night in a 5-1 win over division-rival Florida. Steven Stamkos scored twice, Martin St. Louis added his 300th goal in a Lightning uniform, Ryan Malone had a goal and Tom Pyatt also factored into the scoring with his very first goal as a member of the Bolts. Mathieu Garon also chipped in 23 saves to earn back-to-back wins on consecutive nights for the first time in nearly two years.
WILD – Minnesota wraps up a six-game home stand against Tampa Bay and will play in the second half of a back-to-back set after hosting the Flames Sunday evening. The Wild were left out of the playoff picture last spring, but have perhaps been the NHL’s biggest surprise team this season. Minnesota is second in the Western Conference to this point in the season, behind only Chicago, despite a 5-2 loss to Calgary at the Xcel Energy Center. Cal Clutterbuck got the Wild on the board first, but then fell behind 3-2 heading into the final 20 minutes. The Flames went on to tack on an additional pair of tallies in the third, handing Minnesota just its second loss in its last seven games.
Who’s Hot: Steven Stamkos is two behind league leader Phil Kessel in the NHL’s goals department after notching two on Saturday against Florida. Stamkos now has eight goals in his past 10 games. Martin St. Louis also has two goals and a pair of assists over his past four games, while Vincent Lecavalier has four goals in his past five games for the Bolts. Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu has two goals and seven points in his past five games, while goaltender Niklas Backstrom has won three starts in a row.
WILD – Marek Zidlicky (concussion), Greg Zanon (groin) and Guillaume Latendresse (concussion).
Notable Quotable: “We feel comfortable in what we are trying to do right now. We tweaked a few things that fit right into our strengths and guys are feeling comfortable on the ice. There is not as much thinking and it takes the hesitation out of the play, and sometimes that hesitation just puts you a little step behind. And I thought in both games [this weekend] we were on top of that team and it showed in the results.” – Martin St. Louis, on the changes his team made that factored into a home and home sweep of the Panthers this past weekend
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