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:
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
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