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Bolts battle Boston to start critical home stand

Brayden Point could return to lineup tonight after missing time with upper-body injury

by Bryan Burns /

The Tampa Bay Lightning played well enough on a six-game road trip right before the All-Star break that started in California and ended four hours south of Tampa in Sunrise to win at least five of the six games and come away with potentially 10 points.

That they finished just 2-2-2 with six of a possible 12 points is discouraging, especially for a team needing as many points as possible to get back into playoff position.

But the Bolts are encouraged by the way they played before the break and are hoping to continue their good form as they start a critical four-game home stand tonight at AMALIE Arena against the Boston Bruins, who are third in the Atlantic Division and six points in front of the Lightning for the last playoff berth.

"We know deep down we deserved a little bit better fate than that," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said about his team's record on the road trip. "I really liked the way we were playing and that's just the kind of defensive posture and attitude we have to have going into every single game."

The Lightning currently occupy sixth place in the Atlantic Division and 12th place in the Eastern Conference, meaning they have 32 games remaining in the regular season to leapfrog a handful of teams to get into the postseason.

"We've got 30-plus games left, but to be honest, that's not any focus at all," Cooper said. "It's Boston and Boston only. It's like a ladder. We've got to think of each team as kind of a rung and start pulling ourselves above them, and Boston's one of those teams ahead of us."

POINT PERHAPS?: For a second-straight day, injured rookie forward Brayden Point was a full participant at Lightning practice and wore a regular jersey, indicating he's cleared for contact.

Point even took line rushes during Tuesday's morning skate at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum, playing the right wing on a line with Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson.

Despite the encouraging signs, Cooper still wasn't ready, however, to deem Point a go for tonight's contest against the Bruins.
"We'll see tonight," was Cooper's response when asked if Point had been cleared to play.

Point played in 36 games for the Bolts, collecting three goals and 12 assists, before being sidelined by an upper-body injury after the holiday break. Prior to getting hurt, Point was playing his best hockey of the season.

He's missed the last 14 games.

"He plays a north-south game," Cooper said. "He's got exceptional hockey sense. He made us a better team. It's not that one player makes a team, but he was a piece to our puzzle that was generating some success for us. He's been off for a month and a half here, so his timing and everything is going to be off. But it's good to have him back."

BISHOP IN NET: Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop will get a chance to redeem himself after a sub-par performance during his last start 10 days ago in Arizona where he gave up five goals on 17 shots and was pulled after the second period.

Bishop will get the nod in net tonight versus Boston for his 26th start of the season Cooper confirmed.

"We've got two good goalies, and the key is keeping them both in situations where they can help us win games," Cooper said. "The one thing is, Vasy had two strong games right before the break, but Bish played well on the Western trip as well because he picked us up three of four points in that back-to-back with L.A. and Anaheim and that's what we need our guys to do, keep picking us up points. Bish will be in tonight, and we'll re-evaluate after that."

Before the poor performance against the Coyotes, Bishop turned in three stellar performances coming back from a lower-body injury, giving up just five goals combined and going 2-0-1.

Andrei Vasilevskiy, meanwhile, has been one of the hottest goaltenders in the NHL recently. Since a 3-1 loss to Columbus on January 13 in which he yielded just two goals, Vasilevskiy ranks fourth in the NHL for save percentage (.940) and fifth for goals-against average (1.86) among goalies making multiple starts.

"Every night, those guys lift us up in some way or another," Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison said of Bishop and Vasilevskiy. "We're very fortunate to have that tandem in the net for us every night. They've been playing great hockey. They've been giving us a chance every night."

ICE CHIPS: Cooper said defenseman Jake Dotchin, who played his first three NHL games on the road trip, has impressed in his limited time with the team. "He's showing no fear and that's big," Cooper said. "He's not sitting there playing not to make a mistake. And that's what you like in a guy. He can get a shot off from the point. He's got good instincts all over the ice. You're waiting to see when a new guy comes up when he's going to take that dip because it always happens. But he's played a couple games so far, and it hasn't happened."…The Lightning continue to pace the NHL for power-play goals (41) and have scored a power-play marker in three of their last four games…Anton Stralman can hit the career 200-point milestone with one more point…The Lightning are 0-1-1 so far against Boston, who, along with Detroit, are one of two teams they'll play five times this season. 

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