The Tampa Bay Lightning are on their second-longest winning streak of the season having won four-straight games coming into tonight’s contest in New Jersey, the start of a four-game road trip for the Bolts.
In order to leave the Garden State with their fifth victory in a row, the Lightning will have to start fast. New Jersey fell in Columbus 6-1 Thursday night and will no doubt be eager to erase that poor performance from its memory bank at home a day later against the Lightning.
“They didn’t have the game they wanted,” Bolts captain Steven Stamkos said. “They’re going to come out hungry. It’s another team that’s right in the mix (for the playoffs), just like us.”
The Lightning currently occupy second place in the Atlantic Division and the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference. The Devils are seeded ninth in the East, one point back of Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division for the final playoff berth.
“It’s a desperate team we’re facing tonight, especially coming off a tough loss,” said Stamkos, who has scored a goal in a Bolts-season-best four-straight games.
The Lightning can stave off some of that desperation by continuing the way they’ve played during their win streak, particularly the last three games. In those contests, the Lightning made smart, safe passes out of their own end, were on the right side of pucks when it turned over and prevented breakaways and odd-man rushes by not getting caught too deep in the offensive zone, an issue that plagued the Bolts when they lost four of five games prior to the current run.
“I think we have a lot of good puck management, and I think the guys are getting a good connection with each other,” Lightning forward Jonathan Marchessault said. “That makes it easy.”
COBURN SIGNS EXTENSION
Before the Bolts hit the ice for morning skate at the Prudential Center, the team announced defenseman Braydon Coburn had signed a three-year extension to continue his stay in Tampa through the 2018-19 season.
Coburn is in his 11th season in the NHL and will play career game No. 679 tonight. Averaging 2:11 shorthanded time on ice per game, he’s the Bolts’ top penalty killer, and he ranks third on the team for blocked shots (69) and hits (90).
Coburn will turn 31 tomorrow.
“It’s a great feeling for me and my family,” Coburn said. “I’m very appreciative of (Lightning GM) Steve (Yzerman) and (Lightning owner Jeff) Vinik and the whole Lightning organization that they wanted to do this for three years. We’re excited to keep living in Tampa. It’s a great place, and it was a great fit for me since I got traded down here. I’ve really enjoyed it. We’ve got a lot of good things happening with this team.”
Coburn said conversations with Yzerman about a new deal started about a week ago.
“If there was a possibility for us to stay, we wanted to stay,” Coburn said. “We’re lucky enough that that opportunity came around.”
The Lightning acquired Coburn at the trade deadline last season in exchange for Radko Gudas, a first-round pick and a third-round pick in the 2015 Draft. Coburn played just four games in the regular season with the Bolts after injuring his foot, but appeared in all 26 playoff games and has yet to miss a game this season.
“He was a key acquisition last year at the deadline,” Stamkos said. “We got a guy who’s been around the league a long time, brings that leadership, brings a physical presence that I think we didn’t have, especially when we lost (Gudas) last year and then traded him. We needed to get that back, those physical attributes and he does that. He’s just steady back there, and you can’t have enough of those guys. He’s deserving of his time. He’s fit in nicely with this team.”
ODDS AND ENDS
Nikita Kucherov took part in Friday’s optional morning skate and said he was good to go for tonight’s game. Kucherov has missed the previous two games due to a lower-body injury…Jason Garrison also skated this morning but no word whether he’s ready to return. Garrison has sat out eight games while dealing with a lower-body injury…The Lightning are 15-5-0 over their last 20 games...Tampa Bay is 5-2-1 in the opening game of a multi-game road trip this season…Vladislav Namestnikov is a team-best +16 on the road but even at home…Steven Stamkos will play in his 553rd game with the Lightning tonight, provided he’s in the lineup, and pass Brad Richards (552) for fourth all-time games played in Bolts history.