LIGHTNING (39-22-10) at SENATORS (26-36-9)
TV -- CBC (HD), SUN (HD)
Last 10 -- Tampa Bay 3-4-3; Ottawa 6-4-0
Season series -- Saturday night's matchup at Scotiabank Place marks the third of four meetings this season between these Eastern Conference foes. Tampa Bay kicked off the new year with a 2-1 victory in Ottawa on Jan. 8, but Ottawa responded last Friday night with a 2-1 win at Tampa thanks to a 34-save performance by Curtis McElhinney in his Ottawa debut. The Bolts and the Sens will meet one final time on March 29 at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Big story -- Despite their recent struggles, the Lightning are second in the Southeast Division, trailing first-place Washington by six points. But the last-place Senators have embraced the spoiler role as of late, winning five of their last eight games. Most recently, Cory Clouston's squad handed the New Jersey Devils a devastating 3-1 loss on Thursday night in Ottawa.
Lightning -- Through the first four months of the season, Tampa Bay rode its veteran leadership and the scoring prowess of Steven Stamkos (a League-high 43 goals) to high placement among the upper echelon teams in the East. However, the Bolts' rough start in March has included frustration, tough breaks and a slide in the standings after they led the Southeast Division for much of the season.
Saturday night's game in Ottawa is the finale of a four-game road trip for the Lightning, who have gone 1-0-2 thus far. On Thursday in Montreal, Simon Gagne sparked the Bolts with a third-period equalizer to help his team earn a point, but Tampa ultimately fell in the shootout to Carey Price and the Canadiens. The Lightning currently stand in fifth place in the East with 11 games left in the regular season, but the team's rough stretch has led to some concern moving forward into the postseason.
"It's been tough, but a lot of things have been getting better," coach Guy Boucher said. "That game-breaker hasn't been coming. We're playing great games, so it's been a bit demoralizing, but we've kept with it."
Senators -- Ottawa has experienced its share of adversity this season as well, with the height coming during its mid-season stretch of 17 losses in 18 games. However, the recent acquisitions of Craig Anderson and McElhinney have paid huge dividends for a team that has been searching for stability in net.
On Thursday, the Senators downed the red-hot Devils for the second time in nine days. McElhinney made 33 saves to win his second straight start since joining the team. Anderson has won 6 of his 11 starts with a 2.11 GAA since being dealt from Colorado to Ottawa. Both netminders have given the team a positive jolt of energy heading into the off-season.
"I don't think [being the spoiler] is too much of a motivational factor," coach Cory Clouston said. "We just want to really focus on winning games. We want to focus on improving our young guys and improving our team game to point this team in the right direction."
Who's hot -- Jason Spezza has 23 points in his last 20 games for Ottawa, and is currently tied for the team lead (41) in that category with defenseman Erik Karlsson. … Forward Martin St. Louis, who tallied the lone goal for the Bolts in last week's 2-1 loss to the Senators, has 10 points in his last six games.
Injury report -- Tampa Bay forwards Simon Gagne (upper body) and Steve Downie (lower body) are day-to-day with their respective injuries, while winger Ryan Malone (mid-body) and defenseman Randy Jones (lower body) are sidelined indefinitely. ... Ottawa will be without Peter Regin for the rest of the season due to a left shoulder injury. Daniel Alfredsson (lower back), Matt Carkner (lower body), Milan Michalek (left foot), and Pascal Leclaire (lower body) are all out indefinitely for the Senators as well. Anderson hasn't played since Sunday due to a lower-body injury that will give McElhinney another start.
Stat pack -- Ottawa has killed 44 of the opposition's last 48 power plays. … Tampa Bay goaltender Dwayne Roloson is 1-5-1 in his last seven decisions against the Senators.
Puck drop -- Tampa Bay's recent slump shouldn't diminish the fact that the Lighting are on the verge of making the playoff for the first time since 2007 despite having a rookie coach and a rookie GM. Nor are the Bolts content merely to make the postseason.
"We're still fighting," Boucher said. "If you would have told us [last] summer that we would be fighting with Washington, Boston and Philadelphia and those teams at this time of year, I don't think anybody would have believed us. We've shown that we have a lot of character in that room, and the guys have been extremely persistent."
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