THRASHERS (22-21-7) at LIGHTNING (20-20-10)
Last 10 - Atlanta 4-4-2; Tampa Bay 5-5-0
Season series - The Southeast Division rivals are meeting for the fourth time this season. Tampa Bay has won two of the first three. Atlanta won 6-3 at home on Oct. 3, but Tampa Bay rebounded to beat the Thrashers 4-3 in a shootout in Atlanta on Nov. 22 and 4-3 in regulation time on Dec. 26.
Big story - Both teams are on the outside looking in at the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, but each is just a hot streak from cracking the top eight. The Thrashers have alternated wins and losses in their last eight games, but came up flat at home against last-place Carolina on Thursday, losing 5-2. Tampa Bay has also been up and down, splitting its last 10, but is coming off an emotional 3-2 overtime win over Toronto.
Thrashers - Atlanta has gone cold on the road after a great start. The Thrashers went 9-2-1 in their first 12 games away from Philips Arena, but are 2-10-2 since then - including a 1-0 loss at Florida on Monday. They rebounded by beating Toronto 4-3 at home on Tuesday before the loss to Carolina - a game that saw the Hurricanes go 3-for-4 on the power play while the Thrashers were 0-for-6 - dropping them to 6-for-51 in their last 15 games.
"On special teams, I don't want to use the word horrific, but that's the first thing that comes to my mind," coach John Anderson said. "Our power play isn't generating a lot."
Lightning - After an 8-2 loss at New York on Tuesday that saw coach Rick Tocchet lauding the bus driver rather than his players, Tampa Bay bounced back to beat the Leafs at home two nights later. The Bolts twice rallied from one-goal deficits, then capitalized on a too-many-men penalty by the Leafs in the final minute of OT to win the game.
"Confidence-wise for our team, we definitely needed it," Tocchet said. "Maybe this loosens us up for Saturday."
Who's hot - Thrashers captain Ilya Kovalchuk has 14 points in his last 10 road games and nine in his past six overall. … Martin St. Louis has 4 goals and 4 assists during Tampa Bay's last seven home games, including the OT winner against Toronto on Thursday. Vincent Lecavalier is 3-7-10 during a seven-game points streak. …
Injury report - Atlanta sent goaltender Kari Lehtonen to AHL Chicago on a rehab assignment as he works to return from back surgery. Defenseman Christoph Schubert and center Todd White both are expected to miss the game with knee injuries. … Tampa Bay is likely to give Antero Niittymaki his sixth consecutive start in goal as Mike Smith recovers from a cervical injury. That's bad news for the Thrashers - Niittymaki is 15-0-0 lifetime against Atlanta.
Stat pack - Kovalchuk has 29 goals and 51 points in 47 career games against Tampa Bay. Not to be outdone, St. Louis has 19 goals and 59 points in 53 career games against Atlanta. … Tampa Bay is 9-for-26 on the power play (34.6 percent) in the past six games. … The Lightning have won 12 times this season at the St. Pete Times Forum, matching their total for all of last season.
Puck drop - The Thrashers have 51 points, one more than the Lightning - and both are outside the top eight in the East. Neither can afford to go home empty-handed.
|M. St. Louis||51||13||42||55||-6||8||6||3|