By Kyle Shohara
May the Force be with the Ducks tonight as they conclude their season series against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Star Wars Night at Honda Center. After one of their most consistent games of the season two nights ago against the Vancouver Canucks (4-0 W), the Ducks can also put together multiple wins for only the second time this season. Anaheim’s four-game winning streak from Nov. 1 to Nov. 7 currently stands as the club’s lone streak of this sort.
These clubs met just two weeks ago at Amalie Arena in a game that got away from the Ducks in a second period that saw the Lightning put up three goals – two of which from captain Steven Stamkos. Tampa Bay tacked on two more to send the Ducks home in a 5-0 defeat. Anaheim has earned points in three of the four games since, including the aforementioned 4-0 victory on Monday.
“I know we’ll get their best game tonight,” Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau said of the Lightning. “This is a team that’s beaten us a couple of times in a row, and made us look bad doing it. This is a great test.”
John Gibson will make his fourth consecutive start tonight. The 22-year-old is coming off a 25-save shutout (the third of his career) and second against Vancouver, and is 2-1-1 with a 1.82 goals-against average and .936 save percentage since being recalled on Nov. 24. At the time of his recall, the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native was 7-4-1 with a 2.63 GAA and .917 SV% in 13 games with the San Diego Gulls of the American Hockey League.
Although center Nate Thompson remained coy about his status for tonight, his ear-to-ear smile pretty much gave it away. There is a strong chance he makes his season debut tonight, fittingly against his former team, the Bolts.
“It’s ironic, isn’t it? We’ll see,” said Thompson. “Hopefully I’ll get in tonight and play against my old buddies. More importantly, we win.”
Thompson had a two-game conditioning stint with San Diego over the weekend and has been practicing with the Ducks for the past few weeks. The 31-year-old played in 12 playoff games last year with a damaged left shoulder that required major surgery in June.
“Hopefully tonight, I’ll take warmups and see what happens,” he said, with a terrible poker face. “We’ll see if I get the call. The last couple of days, I haven’t been able to stop smiling. It’s like Christmas morning. I’m excited to get going again.”
If he does in fact draw into the lineup, Patrick Maroon will likely be the one sitting tonight.
For the Lightning, it’ll be Denver, Colorado native Ben Bishop who gets the start. Bishop was in net for Tampa Bay’s 5-0 victory against the Ducks on Nov. 21, his first shutout of the season.
Tonight begins a three-game California trip for the Lightning, who travel up the coast for a game against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday and back down to LA for a game Sunday. Tampa Bay is 3-0-0 against Pacific Division teams this season and has outscored Pacific foes 10-2.
Left wing Jonathan Drouin could return to the lineup tonight after missing the past six games with an undisclosed injury. Drouin, chosen third overall in the 2013 NHL Draft, has a goal and six points in 14 games this season. The 20-year-old collected four goals and 28 points in 70 games as a rookie last season, was named a rookie NHL All-Star and won the fastest skating event at the Skills Competition (13.103).