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:
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
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