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The Tampa Bay Lightning have the fewest points in the Eastern Conference, and were one of the busiest teams heading into the trade deadline. Now, they hope their new emphasis on defense will be able to get them into the playoffs.
With newly acquired Mike Smith expected to start in goal, Tampa Bay (25-30-7) will try to snap a four-game losing streak on Wednesday night when they meet the Minnesota Wild at the St. Pete Times Forum for the first time since October 2003.
The Lightning are at the bottom of the East with 57 points, but only 12 behind Philadelphia and Buffalo for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Hours before Tuesday's deadline, Tampa Bay acquired Smith, forwards Jussi Jokinen and Jeff Halpern, and a future draft pick from Dallas for center Brad Richards and former starting goaltender Johan Holmqvist.
That came one day after high-scoring forward Vaclav Prospal was traded to Philadelphia for defenseman Alexandre Picard and a conditional pick.The Lightning also re-signed defenseman Dan Boyle to a six-year contract extension worth a reported $40 million.
The biggest move, though, was getting Smith, who backed up Marty Turco in Dallas. The Lightning haven't had a true top-flight starter in goal since Nikolai Khabibulin - now with Chicago - helped lead them to the Stanley Cup championship in 2004.
"Trading Brad Richards was one of the most difficult moves I have made as manager of this hockey club," general manager Jay Feaster told the Lightning's official Web site. "However, as we have discussed for some time now, we need to address our goaltending situation and we have been targeting Mike Smith for the past two seasons."
Smith, a fifth-round pick by Dallas in 2001, went 12-9-0 with a 2.46 goals-against average and two shutouts in 21 games this season. He's also on a personal three-game winning streak - a stretch that began on Feb. 7 when he made 25 saves in a 1-0 win at Minnesota (34-24-5).
Smith is 2-1-0 with a 1.14 GAA in three career appearances against the Wild, but to better those numbers, he'll first have to help Tampa Bay end its recent woes at home.
The Lightning lost the opener of their three-game homestand, 5-3, to Boston on Saturday. They are just 4-12-1 at St. Pete Times Forum since Dec. 8.
"This year may not have gone the way we have liked to this point," said Boyle, who has missed 45 games due to severed wrist tendons requiring surgery. "I am confident we can return to those winning ways very quickly."
The Lightning have won the last two meetings with the Wild, including a 3-2 victory at Minnesota on Jan. 4, 2007 in the most recent matchup. However, they are just 2-4-0 with a tie in seven all-time meetings.
Minnesota is mired in a four-game skid after losing 4-1 at Washington on Tuesday. The Wild, who are looking to reach the playoffs for the third time in its seven seasons, is sixth in the Western Conference.
"Sometimes when you think too much about it, you want to play too well, you get tight, " Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "My comment to the coaching staff was: 'It's the first time I've seen the guys tight like this.' The effort is there - not at its maximum."
The Wild have not lost four straight since going 0-4-1 from Oct. 24-Nov. 1.
Minnesota added some toughness at the deadline, getting left wing Chris Simon from the New York Islanders for a draft pick. He didn't play against the Capitals, but may be in uniform for this game.
A 15-year veteran, Simon received two milestone suspensions in his one-plus seasons with the Islanders. Late last season, he drew a 25-game ban for checking Ryan Hollweg of the New York Rangers in the mouth with his stick.
On Dec. 19, he was given an NHL-record 30-game suspension for stomping on the leg of Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu four days earlier. Simon returned Thursday in the Isles' 1-0 win over the Lightning.