LIGHTNING (27-28-6) AT DEVILS (35-21-4)
TV: SUN, MSG PLUS
Last 10: Tampa Bay 4-5-1; New Jersey 7-2-1
Season Series: This is the third of four meetings between the teams this season and the first in New Jersey. In their last meeting on Dec. 12, the Devils chased starting Tampa Bay keeper Dwayne Roloson with three goals on 12 shots before scoring twice more on replacement Mathieu Garon before the end of the second period. Two Steven Stamkos goals in the third cut the Jersey lead, but the Devils would pull out the 5-4 win.
Big Story: With four wins in their last five games, the Devils have been rocketing up the Eastern Conference standings, making a play for home ice in the first round of the playoffs. The Lightning, meanwhile, are in a dogfight just to make the postseason and a recent 3-1-0 homestand has them within striking distance of the second season.
Lightning: Thanks to their 3-1-0 homestand, the Lightning found new hope in their race towards the postseason. But the Bolts then started a subsequent three-game road swing with a hard-fought loss in Winnipeg before traveling to Pittsburgh for an important afternoon matchup with the Penguins.
Against Pittsburgh, the Bolts fell behind 5-0 before the game was two periods old. Teddy Purcell scored Tampa Bay’s lone goal and Evgeni Malkin would wrap up his hat trick in the final period to help close out an 8-1 thrashing of the Lightning. The loss marked the first time in almost two weeks that Steven Stamkos went an entire game without a goal, not to mention the team’s most lopsided defeat of the season and their worst since Toronto beat them 7-1 on Nov. 22.
Devils: Thanks to a 9-2-1 record since the All-Star break, the Devils are one of the League’s hottest teams. That run has propelled New Jersey from the cusp of playoff qualification to a top-four spot in the Eastern Conference. A 4-3 OT win in Toronto on Tuesday gave the team their second four-game win streak this month before they returned home to host one of the League’s other hottest teams.
Against the Canucks on Friday, New Jersey fell behind 2-0 to a Vancouver team that had won five of its previous six games. David Clarkson’s goal midway through the second period would cut into the Vancouver lead, but the Devils would get no closer despite outshooting their guests 23-10 in the final two periods and 31-16 overall. The 31-save performance from Cory Schneider gave the Canucks backup goaltender his seventh straight win.
Who's Hot: For the Bolts, Purcell has 10 points in his current five-game point streak while Stamkos has six goals in his last five games. … New Jersey has been paced lately by Clarkson, who has goals in three straight games. His linemates, Petr Sykora and Patrik Elias, have four and three points respectively in the last three games while Ilya Kovalchuk and Adam Henrique have seven and six points respectively in the last five games.
Injury Report: The Lightning will be without Vincent Lecavalier (hand), Dana Tyrell (knee surgery), Mattias Ohlund (knee surgeries), and Marc-Andre Bergeron (back), who are all on IR. Ryan Shannon is also questionable after missing the game in Pittsburgh. … For the Devils, Adam Larsson (lower back), Travis Zajac (Achilles), and Henrik Tallinder (blood clot) are on IR.
Stat Pack: This game will feature two of the League’s hottest players going head to head. Since Christmas, Stamkos has scored an astounding 23 goals in 27 games. Ilya Kovalchuk has been just as scorching in that time, registering 32 points in 24 games since Dec. 31.
Puck Drop: Sunday’s game will likely see the Devils’ debut of defenseman Marek Zidlicky, who was traded from the Wild to New Jersey on Friday in a deal that saw Kurtis Foster, Nick Palmieri, Stephane Veilleux, a second-round pick, and an additional conditional pick sent to Minnesota.