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LIGHTNING (17-21-2) at CAPITALS (22-17-2)
TV: SUN, CSN-DC
Last 10: Tampa Bay 4-5-1; Washington 8-1-1
Big story: The NHL's top two goal scorers square off as the Capitals look to stretch their winning streak to seven games and stay in front of the Winnipeg Jets in the Southeast Division title race.
Lightning: Tampa Bay started this season 6-1-0 and scored 37 goals in those seven contests. The Lightning have remained one of the top offensive teams in the NHL -- they're third at 3.15 goals per game -- but keeping the other team from scoring has been an issue since the hot start.
The Lightning are the only non-playoff team in the Eastern Conference to boast a positive goal-differential, but it has steadily fallen since the first seven games. Someone scored at least four goals in each of those first seven games -- the Lightning did six times and their opponent once -- but it has been the wrong team far too often since (14 times in 33 contests, including a 6-3 home loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday).
"We just have a lot of things to learn," coach Jon Cooper said. "They have a mentality right now and you're not going to change it overnight. We were passing up an 'A' opportunity for a 'B' opportunity, and that's the mentality we have to get out of our heads."
Capitals: Washington has a two-point lead and a game in hand on the Jets, and capturing a fifth division title in six seasons remains the priority for the Capitals. That said, the team's winning ways of late have positioned it to also have a chance to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs without claiming the No. 3 seed.
But the Capitals have their eye on the division title, not merely making the top eight.
"We've put ourselves in a great situation to make the playoffs and have home-ice advantage in the first round," said forward Troy Brouwer, who scored twice in Thursday's 3-1 home victory against the Carolina Hurricanes. "I don't think after those first games when we were 2-8-1 anyone would have guessed this."
Who's hot: This game also features two of the top three setup men in the NHL. Washington's Nicklas Backstrom has 12 assists in his past six games and is now third in the NHL with 37. Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis has six in his past five games and is now tied with Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby for the League lead at 41.
Injury report: Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman (lower body) could return against the Capitals. Goaltender Andres Lindback (ankle) is likely still out. … Brooks Laich (groin) remains out for the Capitals, though the team's other top-six left wing, Martin Erat, could return after missing the past three games with a lower-body injury. Right wing Joel Ward (knee) and defenseman Tom Poti (back) also remain out.
|M. St. Louis||41||11||41||52||-1||14||3||2|