LIGHTNING (27-26-6) at JETS (29-26-7)
TV: SUN (HD), TSN-JETS
Last 10: Tampa Bay 5-3-2; Winnipeg 5-4-1
Season series: This is the fourth of six meetings between these Southeast Division clubs. The Jets maintain a 2-1-0 record against the Lightning, including a 2-1 overtime win at Tampa on Feb. 2.
Big Story: The Jets are within reach to make the playoffs in their first season in Winnipeg after qualifying for the postseason just once in 11 seasons during the franchise's time playing in Atlanta as the Thrashers. As of Wednesday, Winnipeg was tied with both the Florida Panthers for first in the Southeast Division and the Toronto Maple Leafs for eighth in the Eastern Conference, but didn't hold the tiebreaker with either club and so sat in ninth. Meanwhile, the Lightning (60 points) are starting to heat up with three straight wins, but are still five points behind the Jets in the East standings.
Lightning: While Tampa Bay struggled throughout most of February, it is finally hitting its stride with three consecutive wins following a 2-3-2 to start the month. The Lightning begin a quick three-game road trip Thursday at Winnipeg after going 3-1-0 over a four-game homestand last week.
The Bolts will look for an effort similar to Tuesday's 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks. Steven Stamkos scored twice in the first period for his League-leading 41st and 42nd goals, which also staked the Lighting to a 2-0 lead. Goaltender Mathieu Garon was also solid in net, stopping 28 Ducks shots, including many important saves in the final period.
"I think we want to get off to a good start every game," Stamkos told tampabaylightning.com. "I don’t think it was our particular plan, but any time you score first, you feel better about your game."
Jets: Winnipeg continues its season-long eight-game homestand Thursday after going 2-0-1 over the first three games of this stretch at MTS Centre. The Jets will look to recover from Tuesday's tough loss to the Flyers, where Winnipeg surrendered a goal to Philadelphia's Wayne Simmonds with just under 10 seconds left in regulation and eventually lost in overtime on a Jaromir Jagr goal with less than a minute left to play. Despite the loss, goalie Ondrej Pavelec made 50 saves to earn the first star of the night.
"Pavelec was by far the best player on the ice," coach Claude Noel told winnipegjets.com following the game. "We might have not even got a point if it wasn't for him. He was unbelievable."
Who's Hot: Stamkos is riding a three-game scoring streak for the Lightning with 5 goals and 3 assists over that span. … Pavelec is 2-0-1 over his last three starts for the Jets with an average of 37 saves per game over that span.
Injury Report: Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier missed Tuesday's game with an upper-body injury and it was not revealed at press time whether he would join the team on Thursday's trip to Winnipeg. Defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron (back) remains out for Tampa Bay, as is forward Dana Tyrell (out for season with knee injury) and defenseman Mattias Ohlund (major knee surgery scheduled for Thursday). … For the Jets, defenseman Zach Bogosian remains listed as questionable with a foot injury.
Stat Pack: The Jets are playing much better against the Lightning than they had in the past few seasons. The franchise was just 1-6-5 against Tampa over the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
Puck Drop: When heading down the stretch, it's important that teams have their goalie situation in order. And, at least after Tuesday's game, it appears as if the Jets' coach is confident in whom he has at his disposal.
"Say what you want, but you can win championships with goalies like that -- with goaltending like that. I was very impressed with him," Noel told the team website regarding Pavelec.