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:
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.
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
Mathieu Garon will start in goal, with Dwayne Roloson the backup.