Senators aim to cool off Lightning
SENATORS (34-25-8) at LIGHTNING (31-28-6)
TV: SNET-E, TVA, SUN (HD)
Ottawa 6-3-1; Tampa Bay 7-3-0
The Senators have taken all three games with the Lightning so far this season. In their last meeting, the Sens beat up Tampa Bay 4-0 on Valentine's Day at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Given how they've performed against the Senators this year, the Lightning are probably quite happy to be done with them in 2011-12 after Tuesday, and given how interesting their season has become all of a sudden, it couldn't happen soon enough. The Bolts have managed to pull themselves back into the playoff discussion, but will still have to hop several teams to crash the post-season party — and one of those teams just might be the currently seventh-seeded Sens.
In a second half of streaky teams, the Senators may be making a bid for the title of streakiest. A hot stretch leading up to this season's NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa had many praising the accelerated rebuilding process in Canada's capital. But that was followed by a rough patch for most of February that was later bookended by another hot streak in which Ottawa won six of seven games.
As a result, the Sens have jumped back up into the top eight and are currently nestled in the seventh position, but they haven't done themselves any favours by dropping their last two games, including a 4-2 loss to Florida on Sunday night in which they blew an early two-goal lead. While they're just one point behind sixth-place New Jersey, the Devils have two games in hand, and the distance between Ottawa and the ninth spot is hardly solid.
After nearly reaching the Stanley Cup final last spring, Tampa Bay was among the most disappointing teams in the league over its first half, but "was" may be the key word. The Lightning have been striking at a rapid pace lately, winning four games in a row and seven of their last nine. While the Bolts have not yet cracked the top eight in the East, it no longer looks like a pipe dream. Tampa Bay could very well find a way to break through, especially considering the two games it will have in hand on eighth-place Winnipeg when the puck drops Tuesday.
The Lightning's resurgence is doubtlessly a co-operative effort, but two people that loom large are MVP candidate Steven Stamkos
, whose league-leading 47th goal of the season gave them a 4-3 overtime win in Carolina on Saturday — the team's second OT win in as many games. As well, Mathieu Garon
may be giving the Bolts the stability in net they've lacked most of this season, having won six of his last seven starts.
Tampa Bay's Teddy Purcell
has already tied his single-season career high with 52 points so far, and with 17 games left he seems destined to smash it. That is due in large part to his absolutely torrid play of late, in which Purcell has put up 19 points in his last nine games … Jason Spezza
had his 11-game point streak snapped Sunday, but considering that over the preceding stretch he tallied eight goals and 14 assists, his stick isn't likely to have cooled just yet.
The Senators are still without starting goalie Craig Anderson
, who lacerated his pinky finger during an accident at his home last month, though he did make the trip to Florida and skated in full equipment this morning … The Lightning recently lost defenceman Victor Hedman
to an upper-body injury, while center Vincent Lecavalier
is still out with a broken hand he suffered last month. Hedman could play tonight vs. Ottawa.
In a bizarre statistical coincidence, the Sens have beaten the Bolts in their previous three meetings by scores of 4-2, 4-1 and 4-0. Unless Tampa Bay finds a way to score negative goals Tuesday night, something will have to give.
Given the Lightning's recent hot streak, Ottawa might be wary of losing its edge over Tampa Bay. After all, the Sens just saw their nine-game winning streak against Florida go up in smoke. Ottawa is making a change in net tonight, giving recently-acquired Ben Bishop
his first start with the big club. Bishop faces a tall order against the Bolts, though. After all, Tampa Bay faces a tremendous opportunity, as following a brief trip to Washington on Thursday, it plays its next seven games at home. If the Bolts are to make a run at the post-season, the time is now.