The Tampa Bay Lightning set a franchise record Thursday night against the Detroit Red Wings with their ninth win in a row at home, breaking a mark set during the 2005-06 season.
The Bolts will try to push that streak to 10 tonight when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets at Amalie Arena.
The matchup with Columbus wraps up a mini, two-game homestand. Tampa Bay will travel to St. Louis (Tuesday) and Dallas (Thursday) next week before returning home for a back-to-back set against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings (Saturday) and league-leading Anaheim Ducks (Sunday).
“We have one more game before we hit the road,” Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop said. “It’ll be nice to take care of it.”
Bishop will make his seventh-consecutive start in net tonight for the Lightning. The 28-year-old has won four of his last six and turned in a sparkling effort against the Red Wings on Thursday, stopping 27-of-28 shots and making a handful of spectacular saves early while the game was still up for grabs.
Bishop picked up win No. 25 of the season, which ranks fifth in the NHL, versus Detroit.
The Blue Jackets are one of four teams to beat the Lightning at Amalie Arena so far this season. Tampa Bay is 9-6-0 with one tie all-time against Columbus, but Bolts coach Jon Cooper said the Blue Jackets are always one of the more difficult teams to play, no matter where they fall in the standings.
Currently, Columbus is 21-23-3 and tied for sixth place in the Metropolitan Division.
“They’re painful games, and I say that with the utmost respect for them,” Cooper said. “They’re just a hard team to play against.”
Tampa Bay and Columbus have split a pair of meetings previously this season, each team winning on the other’s home rink. Tonight’s game is the final regular-season matchup between the two.
The Lightning jumped out to a 4-0 first period lead in Columbus on November 8 before holding on for a 7-4 victory, the seven goals tying a season-high for most goals this season.
“We got up 4-0 in the first period, but they kind of took it to us, especially in the third period,” Cooper said. “That actually turned into a hold on game even though it ended 7-4.”
The Lightning fell behind 3-0 to Columbus in the return on December 6 and couldn’t rally.
“When they get the lead, they’re hard to come back on,” Cooper said. “They do a pretty good job of shutting it down…I think one of the big problems when we played them here the last time, they got up on us, and the harder we tried to fight to get back, it was fruitless for us.
“We’ve got to make sure we get the lead against these guys for sure.”
Columbus had a pair of forwards – Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen -- selected to play in the All-Star Game in their home city.
“Columbus doesn’t have quite the recognition that some of the other teams have, but they have a lot of skilled guys on that team,” Bishop said.
WITKOWSKI, MORROW IN
Cooper said Luke Witkowski will make his second career NHL start tonight versus Columbus, replacing Nikita Nesterov on the blue line.
“Luke plays a little bit of a heavier game,” Cooper said. “We don’t have him up here to sit on the bench. If that was the case, he’d be back in Syracuse. We’re about to go out West here and play on the road quite a bit. We’ve got to get these guys into games, and you keep sitting them out, rust sets in.”
Also, Brenden Morrow is back in the lineup for J.T. Brown after sitting Thursday.
“Another case of we just don’t want guys sitting out,” Cooper said. “When you’ve got 22 healthy we have here, two have got to sit out…We want to keep guys into games and keep them engaged with us. Everybody helps us win, so it’s just where we’re going tonight.”