The Southeast Division rivals face off in the fifth of six total meetings on the year. Three of the first four matchups this season have been decided by just a single goal with Winnipeg winning two of those and Tampa Bay the other. Winnipeg also scored a 5-2 victory in its home arena back on Nov. 14. The teams will conclude the season series one week from tonight in what will be the final game of the regular season for both clubs.
The Big Story:
Tampa Bay looks to rebound from two consecutive losses and get back on the winning track as it kicks off its final homestand of the season. Steven Stamkos is just the man to help them do it, as he leads the NHL with 55 goals and continues his pursuit of 60. Winnipeg, meanwhile, will play in its second consecutive game in as many nights after snapping a three-game losing streak with a 4-3 overtime win at Carolina last night.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay plays in the first of its final two home games this season, as the team will conclude its home portion of the schedule on Monday night against the Capitals. The Lightning will then wrap up the regular season with a three-game road trip through Canada. After stringing together three consecutive victories, the Bolts have dropped two straight games and are on the verge of officially being eliminated from playoff contention. Even with the return of captain Vincent Lecavalier to the lineup, the most recent defeat manifested itself on Thursday night in New Jersey, as Ryan Malone’s fourth career hat trick was not enough to lift the Lightning over the Devils. Tampa Bay found itself tied with New Jersey 3-3 more than halfway through the second period, but then proceeded to give up three unanswered goals that put the Devils out to a commanding lead. Trevor Smith added a late goal for the Bolts to make it 6-4 but that’s as close as the Lightning would get.
JETS – Winnipeg visits the Tampa Bay Times Forum for its second stop on a four-game road trip. Things got off on the right foot for the Jets last night, as the team kicked off its four-game road trip with a 4-3 triumph over the division-rival Hurricanes last night. Winnipeg had lost three straight, and with the Jets all but being eliminated from playoff contention, the team still managed to dig deep and pull out a victory away from home. Andrew Ladd scored the game-winning goal just 16 seconds into overtime, beating former teammate Cam Ward to officially eliminate Carolina from postseason contention. Nik Antropov, Kyle Wellwood and Jim Slater also had goals for Winnipeg, which climbed back from a two-goal deficit in the second period to earn the win and keep its slim playoff chances alive.
Following his hat trick on Thursday night, Ryan Malone enters Saturday’s contest with four goals in his past three games, while Steven Stamkos is currently riding a four-game point streak, collecting five goals and seven points in that span. The Jets’ Nik Antropov has scored a goal in four straight games, and Kyle Wellwood also comes in with two goals and three assists in his past three games.
JETS – Eric Fehr (upper body) and Chris Thorburn (lower body).
“We get away from what works. What works is the simple stuff. We get into the fancy stuff, and we turn it over. We stop shooting, we stick-handle through guys, and instead of playing deep in the other team's zone, we turn it over around the blue line, and it costs us momentum and goals, and we get fatigued because of it.” – Lightning head coach Guy Boucher, on his team’s recent struggles that have led to two consecutive losses
Current Jets defenseman Randy Jones appeared in a Lightning uniform last season, skating in 61 regular season games with the Bolts and an additional five postseason contests before signing with Winnipeg as a free agent. The Jets currently have forward Antti Miettinen as well, with whom the Lightning agreed to terms before he was plucked off waivers by Winnipeg in early December.