TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning host the Ottawa Senators tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, and for the Lightning, much more than just their four game home win-streak is on the line.
"Every game now is a 'must-win.' Yeah, they are," Tampa Bay goalie Mathieu Garon said. "This team (Ottawa) is sitting ahead of us and the next game, too (against Washington on Thursday). They are all really important, and it’s going to be that way until the end of the year."
With the Lightning sitting just four points out of the final playoff position, each remaining game takes on an increased level of urgency, and Tuesday's opponent makes the task that much more difficult.
"They have our number and always find a way to get us," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "It's been real tough to play against them."
Tuesday's game is the fourth and final meeting between the Lightning and the Senators this season, and Ottawa has won all three previous games, holding Tampa Bay to only three goals total.
"Every game is a new game, and every game you try to bring something new," Boucher said. "We do adjustments during the periods and between periods. There has to be and there will be."
The report on the injury front for Tampa Bay was mixed. The Lightning have been without captain Vincent Lecavalier, sidelined with a fractured hand for the last seven games, and Victor Hedman, out with an upper-body injury for the previous four. It appeared likely that at least one of the pair would return Tuesday.
"Hedman? I hope he plays," Boucher said. "We're waiting for the OK from the doctor. But he feels great and he's ready to go."
Hedman said that he was anxious to get back on the ice, but he sounded a cautious note.
"We'll see. We're 99.9 percent certain, but there is still a chance I might not play. We'll see after this afternoon," he said. "I'm excited to play, but still, we have to make sure that I'm really 100 percent before I play. These are important games and you can't be halfway. I feel 100 percent, but we'll see after this afternoon."
The news for Lecavalier was not as optimistic.
"Vinny is not ready yet at all," Boucher said. "When? I couldn't say, to be honest with you. As much as I would love to spend time waiting for Vinny, I think right now we have to focus on the players who are here and the ones who have come up from the AHL to help us."
Also out with an upper-body injury is defenseman Bruno Gervais.
The Senators have enjoyed a six-game winning streak and another run of nine games without a regulation loss during the season, but they arrive in Tampa with back-to-back losses.
Ben Bishop, just recalled from Ottawa's AHL affiliate in Binghampton, will make his debut in the net for the Senators. Bishop was obtained for a second-round pick in the 2013 draft in a trade deadline deal with the St. Louis Blues.
"I'm excited," Bishop said. "It's nice to meet everyone, but I have to get down to business in a couple of hours. If someone tells you that they are not nervous in this situation, they'd be lying to you. But once the puck drops, I'll be fine."
Tuesday's morning skate was the first time Ottawa coach Paul MacLean got a live look at his new goaltender.
"He's a big guy," MacLean said of the 6-foot-7 netminder. "He's got good hands and covers lots of the net. We're looking forward to having him play and seeing what he can do."
Erik Karlsson reacted to his $2,500 fine for his hit on Sean Bergenheim during Sunday's 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers.
"It is what it is," Karlsson said. "I can't change it right now. It was a bad play by me."
Karlsson said he spoke with Brendan Shanahan, NHL Senior VP for Player Safety, about the fine.
"I told him I understood," Karlsson said.
Here's how tonight's lineups project:
Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Colin Greening
Nick Foligno - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson
Rob Klinkhammer - Zack Smith - Chris Neil
Erik Condra - Kaspars Daugavins - Jim O'Brien
Filip Kuba - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Sergei Gonchar
Chris Phillips - Matt Gilroy
Martin St. Louis - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Ryan Malone - Nate Thompson - JT Wyman
Tom Pyatt - Adam Hall - Brett Connolly
Ryan Shannon - Tim Wallace
Eric Brewer - Victor Hedman
Brian Lee - Mike Commodore
Brendan Mikkelson - Brett Clark