TAMPA - The Tampa Bay Lightning opens a season-long seven game homestand Saturday night which could make or break their season.
The Lightning, who play host to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, have closed the gap to three points between themselves and the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Home has been good to Tampa Bay all season; they have compiled a 20-10-2 record on their home ice, and the players know the weight of these next seven.
“We’ve pointed to this homestand for quite a while,” Marin St. Louis said. “We know what it means and what we have to do. I think the guys in this room are ready.”
Lightning coach Guy Boucher, however, wanted to down-play the importance.
“There’s no added pressure because we’ve been saying that since Christmas,” Boucher said. “This game, that game, this homestand -- we played against the top team, the lowest team. There’s always a reason why that game is so important. Tonight it’s one game and, yes, it is a homestand, but we can’t think of the homestand. That’s seven games. That’s a lot of games. That’s two weeks; a lot of things will be done in those two weeks. Tonight, the first ten minutes against Carolina will be our focus. That’s how we’ve been going at it.”
And clearly they have gotten results with their one-game-at-a time viewpoint.
“We used to be, a month ago, 13 points behind Florida for the lead in the Southeast Division at one point; nine points behind Washington for the final playoff spot,” Boucher said. “We’ve caught up a lot but we’ve caught up a lot because we didn’t focus on those things; we didn’t focus on the standings and on intangible things that we don’t control. We focused on what we need to improve. Last game, we were up 2-1 and we weren’t smart in clearing the puck from our zone. That’s what is important. It has nothing to do with Carolina or any other team in front of us. Those are the things that matter to us.”
Dustin Tokarski will make his second start for Tampa Bay after being called up from Norfolk once Mathieu Garon went down with a groin injury.
Tokarski aquitted himself well against the Washington Capitals on Thursday night despite taking the loss 3-2 in overtime.
“You never want to be happy with a loss but I think I made the saves I had,” Tokarski said. “I made a couple of tougher ones and I would have liked to make another big save for the guys and get the win but I thought I stayed fairly calm and played my simple game; compact and no rebounds.”
Carolina trails the Lightning by four points and has hit a rough patch in their attempt to climb back into the postseason hunt, winning only two of their last seven games. They are in the middle of an extended road trip and have not fared very well on the road this season, going 8-14-9.
This meeting concludes the series between these two clubs, with Tampa Bay having won three of the previous five matchups.
Here are the projected lineups:
Anthony Stewart - Eric Staal - Jiri Tlusty
Jeff Skinner - Jussi Jokinen - Chad LaRose
Patrick Dwyer - Brandon Sutter - Andreas Nodl
Derek Joslin - Tim Brent - Jerome Samson
Tim Gleason - Bryan Allen
Jay Harrison - Justin Faulk
Jaroslav Spacek - Jamie McBain
Martin St. Louis - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Ryan Malone - Nate Thompson - Adam Hall
JT Wyman - Tom Pyatt - Brett Connolly
Ryan Shannon - Tim Wallace - Brandon Segal
Victor Hedman - Eric Brewer
Brett Clark - Brian Lee
Mike Commodore - Brendan Mikkelson