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Posted On Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 1:38 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Opportunity knocks for Lightning to gain ground

TAMPA -- From their precarious perch, the Tampa Bay Lightning can see everything. Ahead of them are five teams that they have to maneuver past in order to make the postseason; behind them is one team and one point separating them from the Eastern Conference basement.

That delicate balance makes every game crucial.

Tuesday night the Lightning open a four-game homestand against the Ottawa Senators, one of the clubs they must leapfrog in order to make the playoffs.

And although there is an eight-point hill to climb to reach the final playoff spot, the fates are aligning to give the Lightning every opportunity to get there.

They have six of their next nine games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where they are 15-8-2, and Ryan Malone, an important part of their power play, returns to the lineup Tuesday after an absence of eight games with an upper-body injury.

The return of Malone can only be welcome news for a Lightning power play that is 29th in the League with a 13.5 success percentage and has scored just twice in their last 29 attempts, which includes an empty-netter.

"He (Malone) is our best guy down low, so we're going to have to make room for him on the power play," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said.

After Sunday's 4-2 loss in Pittsburgh, the second half in a back-to-back series, Boucher was critical of the play of his team, which had jumped out to a first period two-goal lead. On reflection, Boucher now takes a different view of the loss.

"After the first period, we should have been expecting them coming out real strong, and they did, and we stayed at the same level," Boucher said. "We don't cut any slack, but we certainly can explain it. Our guys had nothing left in the second and the third. We could have played it differently; we stayed very aggressive and we didn't have the juice to do that.

"We knew we had to change the game plan around, but we didn't change it and it cost us. Next time around, we'll be able to manage it better."

Another point seemingly in the Lightning's favor is that the Senators arrive after going 1-6-2 in their last nine games, but Jason Spezza suggested that the worst was over.

"We picked up three of our last four points," Spezza said. "We struggled for five or six games before that, but in a snapshot of our last three games, we're playing better.

"The games become very important now because every team is desperate to pick up points. We'll face a desperate team every night, and no one can really feel safe."

Certainly the Lightning understand the critical situation they face.

"This is a huge homestand for us," Pavel Kubina said. "We're eight points out of the playoffs with a game in hand. We don't give up; we'll go to the end and see what will happen, but we're capable of making it, for sure."

Dominic Moore put it this way: "When there are points on the table, they need to be ours."
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 1:34 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Senators, Lightning

Here's how the lineups could look tonight when the Ottawa Senators visit the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Tampa Bay Times Forum:

SENATORS
Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Bobby Butler
Colin Greening - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson
Kaspars Daugavins - Zack Smith - Erik Condra
Nick Foligno - Jim O'Brien - Chris Neil

Filip Kuba - Erik Karlsson
Chris Phillips - Sergei Gonchar
Jared Cowen - Brian Lee

Craig Anderson
Alex Auld

LIGHTNING

Ryan Malone - Vincent Lecavalier - Martin St. Louis
Steve Downie - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Tom Pyatt - Dominic Moore - Nate Thompson
JT Wyman - Adam Hall - Brett Connolly

Eric Brewer - Victor Hedman
Brett Clark - Pavel Kubina
Brendan Mikkelson - Bruno Gervais

Mathieu Garon
Dwayne Roloson
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.07.2012 / 1:14 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lightning recall Oberg as insurance

TAMPA -- In what qualifies as somewhat of a mystery move, the Tampa Bay Lightning recalled defenseman Evan Oberg from Norfolk (American Hockey League) on Tuesday.

This is Oberg’s eighth recall with the Lightning since he was acquired from Florida on Dec. 2. He has appeared in one game, logging 1:21 of ice time.

But what makes the call-up unusual this time is the timing and circumstances. Previously, Oberg arrived when Tampa Bay faced multiple injuries, including injuries to Victor Hedman and Marc-Andre Bergeron.

Currently, the Lightning defensive corps is as healthy as it has been all season, with Hedman returning to the lineup and Marc-Andre Bergeron set to return at any time.

Lightning coach Guy Boucher prefers to dress seven defensemen as a rule, but with Bergeron back, the team will be carrying nine players on the blueline, scratching two each game.

The addition of Oberg to the roster has lead to some speculation about a pending trade, something Boucher was quick to dismiss at his conference after the morning skate Tuesday.

“There are no trades or anything to speculate on,” Boucher said. “We don’t say everything and obviously some of our defensemen have little ‘boo-boos’ that we’re not sure about, so it’s just a precaution thing.

“If something happens, it will be something out of the blue. There is nothing hidden. It’s just the fact that we have some players that are practicing and playing but we just want to make sure. If I were 100-percent sure of Bergeron returning today we wouldn’t need to take that precaution, but right now there are things that I can’t talk about that we’re taking precautions on. Nothing gigantic.”

Later, Boucher indicated that Bergeron appeared ready to play on Tuesday night against the L.A.Kings.

“Bergeron, our top-scoring defenseman, might be back tonight,” Boucher said, “so that might be interesting too.”
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.07.2012 / 1:08 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Kings vs. Lightning

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning will wrap up their homestand Tuesday night when the Los Angeles Kings make a rare visit to the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

The Kings have not played in Tampa since Nov. 14, 2009. Only San Jose has currently gone longer without visiting Tampa Bay. The Kings are in the middle of a season-long six-game cross-country road trip which has not begun well. L.A. has dropped their past two decisions, losing 1-0 in St. Louis and 2-1 against Carolina on Saturday night.

Tuesday night, the Lightning complete a stretch that had them at home -- where they are 15-7-2 -- for seven of their past nine games. They arrived limping, in the throes of a season-long seven game losing streak, but have turned that around and have captured 13 of a possible 14 points since. The run has put Tampa Bay back in the Stanley Cup Playoff hunt, currently 10 points out of the final post-season spot.

For Lightning coach Guy Boucher, it’s a matter of the team jelling at the right time.

“To see the effort from the players at all positions means there is a team chemistry; a team vision and cohesion,” Boucher said. “That’s what you’re after the entire year. Sometimes it takes more time than others but that’s what we have right now.”

But why did it take the Lightning 51 games to reach this point? Boucher points to several factors, but mostly attributes misplaced expectations and loss of focus as the culprits.

“The reality is, it often happens that a player that has some success the previous year comes in thinking they’ll take their game to a way other level,” Boucher said. “The expectations are not in the right place. It took a long time for us as individuals and a team to get the right expectations. That, and the injuries and away games early in the season. But to battle through that and get to where we are now was the whole point. It just took time.”

Dwayne Roloson gets the nod and will start Tuesday night for Tampa Bay. It will be Roloson’s first start since the All-Star break, when he made 33 saves to beat Phoenix Jan 21. Mathieu Garon has started the past four games.

“I knew I wanted to get Roli in soon enough after the break,” Boucher said. “He played well last game he played so I wanted to find a way to get him back in, but at the same time, Garon was doing well.”

The prospect of facing L.A.’s goaltender Jonathan Quick and his 22 wins and 1.91 goals against average is no concern to Boucher at all.

“Pavelec, Tim Thomas, we’ve been meeting them all;” Boucher said. “One great goalie or another great goalie, to me, it’s the same approach.”

Steven Stamkos, the NHL’s leading goal scorer, echoed Boucher’s thoughts about facing Quick.

“We don’t get to see Quick that often, but we pretty much have the same plan against any goalie; the basics,” Stamkos said. “Try to get traffic in front and put lots of pucks on the net and hope for the best.”

The “best” would be heading out on the road with another win, but Stamkos, who turned 22 Tuesday and was drenched in shaving cream in an on-ice celebration, knows that won’t come easily.

“These guys are a very good defensive team,” Stamkos said. “They play a lot of low-scoring games. They’re physical and they’re fast, so we have to play our best defensive game today because these guys don’t give up a lot and they can capitalize on chances. We know the importance of this one.”


KINGS

Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dustin Penner - Mike Richards - Jarret Stoll
Kyle Clifford - Andrei Loktionov - Trevor Lewis
Brad Richardson - Colin Fraser - Trent Hunter

Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell - Jack Johnson
Alec Martinez - Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier

LIGHTNING

Tom Pyatt - Vincent Lecavalier - Martin St. Louis
Steve Downie - Martin St. Louis - Teddy Purcell
Ryan Shannon - Dominic Moore - Nate Thompson
JT Wyman - Brett Connolly

Eric Brewer - Victor Hedman
Brett Clark - Pavel Kubina
Brendan Mikkelson - Bruno Gervais
Matt Gilroy

Dwayne Roloson
Mathieu Garon
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Posted On Saturday, 02.04.2012 / 1:41 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Panthers, looking for third straight win, face Lightning

TAMPA - The Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers visit the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Saturday night to complete their six-game season series with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Lightning hold the edge, three wins to two, but the Panthers, with the chance of post-season play after 10 seasons, have come out of the All-Star break with two wins and can equal a season-high three-game win streak with a victory against the Lightning.

Tampa Bay, nine points from a playoff berth, will look to close that gap after having a season-long five-game winning streak halted Thursday when the Winnipeg Jets beat them in overtime, 2-1.

Just prior to the start of that game, rookie Brett Connolly was informed that he would be scratched. Connolly, Tampa Bay’s first-round draft pick in 2010, made the roster out of training camp and began the season with lots of fanfare.  Initially, Connolly made that decision look like a good one as he collected four goals and two assists in his first 18 games, including back-to-back goals Nov. 1 against Carolina and Nov. 4 against Chicago while routinely logging 15 minutes or more of ice time.

Connolly missed 11 NHL games while playing with Team Canada in the World Juniors and scored five goals and six points en route to a bronze medal, but since his return on Jan. 7, he hasn’t had a point in 10 games and has seen his time-on-ice shrink to less than eight minutes per game.

“I found out (about being scratched) right after warm-ups,” Connolly said. “It’s the first time ever in my life anywhere that I’ve been scratched. It’s a learning experience.”

And a learning experience that Connolly has apparently taken to heart.

“I have to work even harder now and make it tough for them to take me out of the lineup,” he said. “I want to push the older guys and I’ve got to be better every day.”

Connolly cited his defensive lapses as the main reason he sat out, but Lightning coach Guy Boucher, who started 11 forwards and seven defensemen against the Jets, then took a different approach to sitting Connolly.

“One, he was expecting it,” Boucher said, “and, two, he understands it. What effect will this have on his confidence? Well, look at Stamkos who lived the same thing as a rookie and is looking pretty good. These are moments that they have as a 19-year-old that they have to go through and learn and take a breather sometimes, like last game.

“I told him not to necessarily change his game now, we just needed a bigger body in the line-up, like (Pierre-Cedric) Labrie and (Ryan) Shannon had played well the previous game and I didn’t want to take him out. Sometimes it’s not necessarily about the player himself, it’s the fact that there are other players out there that are doing well.”

Florida arrived in Tampa after defeating Winnipeg 2-1 in Sunrise, Fla., on Friday night and had an optional skate Saturday morning. As a result, more of the players kicked a soccer ball around below the stands than actually took the ice. Scott Clemmensen gets the call in net for Florida, and he will become the first Panther goalie to start on consecutive nights this season.

NOTE: Just prior to the All-Star break, while the Lightning were mired in a seven-game losing streak which threatened to ruin their season, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos asked a long-time Lightning employee, Tom Gilbert, to give then a pep-talk after the morning skate. Gilbert’s words of encouragement had the desired effect, as Tampa Bay put a halt to their skid with a 5-3 win against the Boston Bruins, with Stamkos scoring a goal and St. Louis picking up an assist.

A ritual was born and Gilbert, who collects audio sound bites for the team’s website, was called on to address the entire club after the morning skate during the next two home games, which the Lightning won. Gilbert, who cited Rocky Balboa running down the beach and other inspirational images, also spoke before the Winnipeg game on Thursday, which Tampa lost in overtime.
But when the magic is gone, it’s gone, and Gilbert was nowhere to be seen after Saturday’s morning skate.

PANTHERS

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Kopecky - Shawn Matthias - Mike Santorelli
Krystofer Barch - John Madden - Matt Bradley

Jason Garrison - Mike Weaver
Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Keaton Ellerby - Tyson Strachan

Scott Clemmensen
Brian Foster

LIGHTNING

Tom Pyatt - Vincent Lecavalier - Martin St. Louis
Steve Downie - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Ryan Shannon - Dominic Moore - JT Wyman
Nate Thompson - Brett Connolly

Eric Brewer - Victor Hedman
Pavel Kubina - Matt Gilroy
Bruno Gervais - Brendan Mikkelson
Matt Gilroy

Mathieu Garon
Dwayne Roloson
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Posted On Thursday, 02.02.2012 / 1:06 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Byfuglien returns to lineup as Jets visit Lightning

TAMPA -- Two teams on the outside looking in at the postseason hook up tonight when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Tampa Bay Times at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

The Jets, heading into a stretch of three road games in four nights amid a season-long six-game road swing got some good news as defenseman Dustin Byfuglien returns to the lineup after missing 16 games with a knee injury.

"Looks like Buf is ready to go," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "That's a welcome addition. He stabilizes the other guys."

The unknown is how much Byfuglien will be able to play, but Noel cautioned about expecting too much.

"In all fairness, he hasn't played for a while so we have to be a little bit patient," Noel said. "He'll have enthusiasm, and most times it goes good for the first game and then drops off later, but we'll monitor his condition level and see where he's at."

Even if Byfuglien's minutes on the ice are minimal, his teammates are glad to see him return.

"He's an important guy on our team," goalie Ondrej Pavelec said. "Lately we've had trouble scoring goals and I'm pretty sure this guy will help us."

Tampa Bay has won seven straight home games against the Thrashers/Jets and is riding a season-long five game winning streak. This is the third meeting between these two teams this season, with Tampa Bay and Winnipeg each winning at home.

"They've got some dangerous players," Noel said. "(Steven) Stamkos alone has 32 goals; that's pretty awesome for one guy to have that many goals. Who are you going to check? Lecavalier and St. Louis or Stamkos and whoever he's with? It should be a really good challenge. It should be a really good game."

Here are tonight's projected lineups:

JETS
Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Kyle Wellwood - Nik Antropov - Eric Fehr
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Aaron Gagnon - Alexander Burmistrov - Antti Miettinen

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey - Zach Bogosian
Johnny Oduya - Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason

LIGHTNING
Tom Pyatt - Vincent Lecavalier - Martin St. Louis
Steve Downie - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Nate Thompson - Dominic Moore - JT Wyman
Ryan Shannon - Brett Connolly

Eric Brewer - Pavel Kubina
Brett Clark - Matt Gilroy
Bruno Gervais - Brendan Mikkelson
Victor Hedman

Mathieu Garon
Dwayne Roloson
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 1:08 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lightning get Hedman back to face rival Capitals

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals get back to work Tuesday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, and the work at hand for both teams is securing a playoff spot.

The Capitals, with 55 points, are tied for the top spot in the Southeast Division, but with several clubs nipping at their heels they are far from a lock for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay, on the other hand, is looking up at the pack, currently nine points away from it needs to be to qualify.

"I told the players that we need a rock climber's mentality," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "You don't want to look down and you don't want to look up. Looking up can be discouraging and looking down can be scary, so look at the rocks in front of us and the things in the past don't mean anything. Tonight is all about Washington."

That's more than enough, considering the Capitals are 21-3-1 in their last 25 regular-season meetings with Tampa Bay, including wins in both match-ups this season.

But the Lightning, riding a season-high four-game win streak, have reason for optimism since several of their injured players return to action on Tuesday. Tom Pyatt, Ryan Shannon, JT Wyman and, most importantly, Victor Hedman are expected to play. After missing 13 games with a concussion, Boucher cautioned that Hedman will have to work his way back to the level he played before the injury.

Hedman, however, had some different thoughts.

"It's been a while, but I'm 100 percent now," Hedman said. "I don't know how many minutes I'll get, but I hope it's about 30. I'll take the first shift and go from there. Today's a special day because I'm getting back to the game."

Both teams have had less than overwhelming success on the power play of late, with Washington going 1-for-16 and Tampa Bay chugging along at an anemic 5-for-54 with the extra man.

In the game prior to the All-Star break, Boucher used defensemen Brendan Mikkelson and Bruno Gervais on the point and indicated that he planned to continue that combo on the power play.

"They move quickly and they keep it simple," Boucher said. "They have accurate shots on net. I thought they played well. I liked the fact that Mikkelson is real mobile and he has a terrific shot. Gervais keeps things simple. Since we have injuries, we've been mixing it up. We've been trying everyone, basically, on power plays. We've got to find solutions."

Boucher was amused to see that Steven Stamkos won the All-Star shootout competition, especially in light of the fact that Stamkos has yet to connect on a shootout attempt during Boucher's tenure as the Lightning coach, going 0-for-3 this season and blanking last season.

"I don't know what to think," Boucher said. "He hasn't scored one for us this season yet and then he goes out there and wins the shootout contest. He hasn't scored last year, too. Guess he's putting pressure on me to put him out there. He hasn't scored a shootout goal for me in two seasons. I guess I'm the problem."

Here are tonight's projected lineups:

CAPITALS
Marcus Johansson - Mathieu Perreault - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Jeff Halpern - Mike Knuble
Joel Rechlicz - Cody Eakin - Joel Ward

Karl Alzner - Dennis Wideman
Roman Hamrlik - John Carlson
John Erskine - Dmitry Orlov

Tomas Vokoun
Michal Neuvirth

LIGHTNING
Martin St. Louis - Vincent Lecavalier - Teddy Purcell
Tom Pyatt - Steven Stamkos - Steve Downie
Ryan Shannon - Dominic Moore - JT Wyman
Nate Thompson - Brett Connolly

Eric Brewer - Victor Hedman
Brett Clark - Pavel Kubina
Bruno Gervais - Matt Gilroy
Brendan Mikkelson

Mathieu Garon
Dwayne Roloson
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 2:04 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lightning dealing with litany of injuries

TAMPA, Fla. -- At their practice facility in Brandon, Florida, on Monday, the Tampa Bay Lightning locker room was festooned with red jerseys, which indicate "no contact" for that particular player.

A new red jersey was hung in Ryan Malone's stall, as he and Dana Tyrell joined the roster of walking wounded that now numbers nine players.

Tuesday night the Lightning will face the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, and although Tampa Bay is riding a three-game winning streak, the home-ice advantage is of little interest to coach Guy Boucher.

"Right now, it doesn't really matter, home or on the road, it's a question of injuries. Malone and Tyrell are out and half of Norfolk is coming up," Boucher said, in reference to the call-ups from the team's AHL affiliate. "Upper body, lower body, back of the body and top of the head, we've got them all now. To me, it's just a blur right now."

Arriving from Norfolk will be Evan Oberg, who has made the commute numerous times this season but has yet to appear in a game, and Mike Angelides, who will be making his NHL debut.

"Angelides hasn't been up with us yet, so it will be another baptism," Boucher said.

Malone and Tyrell join a list of injured that includes Mattias Ohlund, Victor Hedman, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Adam Hall, Tom Pyatt, Ryan Shannon and JT Wyman

Filling the gap has been several AHL call-ups, including Brendan Mikkelson, Pierre-Cedric Labrie and Trevor Smith.

"The void is also being filled by our regulars like (Martin) St. Louis and (Vincent) Lecavalier and (Steven) Stamkos," Boucher said. "Those guys are playing a lot and they need to. Nate Thompson is practically sleeping on the ice; his tongue is hanging to the floor. He plays in all situations, offensively and defensively.

"This is the most injuries we've had since I've been here, by far. It's extremely taxing, but this (Columbus) is our last game before the break and hopefully our guys will be back after the break."

Boucher was at a loss as to what to attribute the injury outbreak to.

"All the injuries are different," he said. "If we had the same injuries you could say, maybe its how we practice or how we train, but one is caused by being hit by a shot, another guy ran into the boards, they are all different. Without a tendency it’s hard to figure what to do better or differently."

Ultimately, Boucher attributed the rash of misfortunate to factors beyond his, or anyone's, control.

"The hockey gods are just whipping us left and right," Boucher said. "And we're taking it and fighting it and the players have shown great character of late and shown that they want to survive and that they are doing everything they can to survive."
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 1:35 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Hedman skates, closer to rejoining Lightning

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, a key missing component on an injury-stressed defense, took part in the morning skate with the team for the first time since being hurt and declared himself close to returning.

Hedman suffered a concussion Dec. 27 against Philadelphia and will miss his 13th consecutive game Tuesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"It's just a matter of time until I get back into game-shape," Hedman said. "During the All-Star break I'm not going to lay on the beach or anything like that. I'm going to work hard and get prepared for when the season re-starts."

Sitting out during his recovery has been a chore for Hedman.

"Being off the ice is the worst thing," Hedman said. "Hockey is my life and it's what I do for a living. When you can't do what you want it's tough to be real happy, but I've been trying to keep my mood up as much as I can. I'm on the right track now and things are moving in the right direction."

Hedman said he hoped to be ready to play by Jan. 31, the Lightning's first game back after the break.

Lightning coach Guy Boucher was more reserved about that prospect, but hopeful.

"It's a possibility," Boucher said. "But we'll see. I'm not a doctor. But after all the time we've been waiting for him, it's nice to see he's doing well."

The return of Hedman to the lineup would be a morale boost for the Lightning, who are missing nine starters due to injury.

"He's a dominant player and they are rare in our League, so we definitely need him," Boucher said.

Evan Oberg, currently on his seventh call-up from the team's AHL affiliate Norfolk since Dec. 2, will finally see some game action tonight, his debut as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"I'm happy for him," Boucher said. "He's been up and down, waiting for an opportunity to come in and contribute and he'll get that opportunity tonight."

Oberg appeared in four career games as a member of the Vancouver Canucks.
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 1:16 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lightning won't look past road-weary Blue Jackets

TAMPA, Fla. -- After a 4-1 loss Monday in Nashville and a late-night flight, the Columbus Blue Jackets arrived at their Tampa hotel early Tuesday morning and skipped the morning skate to rest up before facing the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Rested or not, for the Lightning, struggling to gain traction for a playoff run, there can be no more welcome sight than the Blue Jackets coming over the horizon.

Columbus' 5-16-3 road record is the worst in the NHL, and they have allowed 37 more goals then they have scored away from home.

Tampa Bay apparently has shaken off the effects of a recent seven-game winless streak and is back on track, arriving home from a two-game road swing seeking their fourth consecutive win. If they get it, they will have their longest win streak of the season.

Although this will be the final game before the All-Star break for both clubs, it marks the first in a crucial 12-game stretch for Tampa Bay. They will play nine of those games at home, where they are 12-7-1 this season. If the Lightning, nine points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, are to make a run for the postseason, these next 12 games will be key.

Tuesday night will be the second and final time these two teams meet this season. The Lightning got a 3-2 win in Columbus on Dec. 17 behind goalie Mathieu Garon, who turned aside 26 shots. Garon will be back in the net Tuesday for the Lightning.

Despite a 5-1-0 all-time record against Columbus at home, Tampa Bay, with nine players out with injuries, is taking nothing for granted.

"They (Columbus) have been working hard and battling lately," Brett Clark said. "They battle hard for 60 minutes. You can't underestimate them. For us, we have to come out with the same effort we've had the last few games and sustain it for 60 minutes. That's the key."

Steven Stamkos, leading the NHL in goals with 32, discounted the Blue Jackets' road record as a factor.

"They have a poor road record, but so did we and we just won two in a row, so stats can be misleading sometimes,' Stamkos said. "You can't take any team for granted in this League and we're definitely not in a position to do that, anyway. We have one game before the break and we need a win."

Here's what both teams likely will put on the ice tonight. The Lightning will play seven defensemen and 11 forwards:

BLUE JACKETS
Vinny Prospal - Antoine Vermette - Rick Nash
R.J. Umberger - Derick Brassard - Tomas Kubalik
Ryan Russell - Samuel Pahlsson - Derek Dorsett
Colton Gillies - Derek MacKenzie - Jared Boll

Fedor Tyutin - Brett Lebda
Marc Methot - John Moore
Grant Clitsome - Aaron Johnson

Curtis Sanford will start in goal, with Steve Mason the backup.

LIGHTNING
Martin St. Louis - Vincent Lecavalier - Steve Downie
Dominic Moore - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Pierre-Cedric Labrie - Trevor Smith - Brett Connolly
Mike Angelidis - Nate Thompson

Eric Brewer - Pavel Kubina
Brett Clark - Matt Gilroy
Bruno Gervais - Brendan Mikkelson
Evan Oberg

Mathieu Garon will start in goal, with Dwayne Roloson the backup.
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Quote of the Day

We've got a team filled with captains, that's what I think. With these first two games we got in, we're really dominating and moving the puck really fast, and it's worked out really good.

— U.S. goalie Brandon Halverson after a 6-0 win against Germany in the World Junior Championship on Sunday