LIGHTNING (17-19-3) at CANADIENS (15-18-7)
TV: CBC, RDS (HD), SUN (HD)
Last 10: Tampa Bay 5-4-1; Montreal 3-7-0
Season Series: Second of four meetings. The teams met Dec. 29 in Tampa Bay and the Lightning rallied from a 3-1 deficit for a 4-3 victory, as former Canadiens defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron and Quebec native Vincent Lecavalier scored in the third period to complete the comeback.
Big Story: Montreal captain Brian Gionta is targeting Saturday's game as his return date after missing the last 11 with a lower-body injury. He scored 57 goals over his first two seasons with the Canadiens, and had 8 goals in 29 games this season. It will be Gionta's first game playing under interim coach Randy Cunneyworth.
"I'm really anxious to get back," Gionta told the team's website following practice Friday. "I still have to talk to the trainers but I definitely felt good out there today. Obviously the injury was a little worse than we had thought at first -- it's just one of those things you have to take care of, but there's still half the season left and it'll be a good time to come back.
"This is our time to make a big push. This time of the year usually decides whether you're going to be in contention or not at the end of the season."
Lightning: The new year hasn't been kind to Tampa Bay at the outset. The Lightning have been outscored 11-4 in losses to the Maple Leafs and Senators. This marks the conclusion of a three-game road trip. Steven Stamkos scored the team's only goal Thursday in Ottawa, cutting a two-goal deficit in half. But the Senators added an insurance goal and an empty-netter to deal the Bolts a 4-1 defeat.
"It's a tough one to swallow," Stamkos said in the Tampa Bay Times. "It's frustrating even more so when you do play well and don't get the result."
Canadiens: For the second time in four games, Montreal set its season high in goals Wednesday against Winnipeg. The Canadiens responded to giving up the opening score by going on to rout the Jets, 7-3, as second-year forward Lars Eller doubled his goal output for the season. Eller had already scored once as the Habs entered the third period with a 3-2 lead; he proceeded not only to complete the hat trick, but add a fourth goal off a spin-o-rama on a penalty shot.
"It was an extremely exciting night for Lars," said teammate Michael Cammalleri, who scored between Eller's second and third goals as Montreal tallied three goals in 50 seconds. "We're very happy for him. This will be one he'll remember forever, probably one of the highlights of his lifetime.
"It would be for any of us, so it was pretty, pretty cool."
Who's Hot: Stamkos extended his goal-scoring streak to five games for the Lightning. He has 8 goals over that span and 12 goals in his last 10 games for an NHL-leading total of 28 for the season. … Erik Cole has 3 goals and 3 assists during a four-game points streak for the Canadiens. Cammalleri has 3 goals in his last four games.
Injury Report: Tampa Bay lost forwards Adam Hall and JT Wyman to upper-body injuries against Ottawa. Hall is out indefinitely and Wyman is day-to-day. Forward Ryan Malone skated Friday and is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Defenseman Victor Hedman is out indefinitely with a concussion. Forward Ryan Shannon is out for several weeks with a lower-body injury. Defenseman Mattias Ohlund has missed the entire season with a knee injury. … Gionta's return would leave forward Scott Gomez (groin) and defenseman Andrei Markov (knee) as the key Montreal players remaining on injured reserve.
Stat Pack: Lightning defenseman Brendan Mikkelson, acquired Friday in a trade with the Flames, has 6 assists in 86 career games with Calgary and Anaheim. … Tomas Kaberle has 1 goal and 8 points in 11 games for the Canadiens after failing to score a goal and posting 9 assists in 29 games this season for the Hurricanes.
Puck Drop: Tampa Bay picked up Mikkelson to help its defensive corps, but the return of Brett Connolly from the World Junior Championship also comes at a good time with the recent injuries up front. Connolly had 5 goals in six games as Team Canada took home bronze at this year's tournament.