Tampa Bay forward Cedric Paquette will be a game-time decision for the Lightning’s fourth and final regular season matchup against the Buffalo Sabres tonight.
Paquette did not skate yesterday during the Bolts’ practice session but participated in today’s morning skate.
“We’re not sure if he can go,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “He was doubtful yesterday. He’s probably questionable today.”
Cooper, however, added Paquette was feeling better following today’s skate, and his status for tonight’s game is more encouraging than it was yesterday.
With Paquette questionable and Ondrej Palat out three to five weeks with a lower-body injury, the Lightning recalled Mike Blunden from AHL Syracuse. Blunden has three goals and five points in 10 games with the Crunch this season and played in two games for the Lightning last season, recording seven hits.
“Who’s going to give us the best chance to win and who’s been down there gaming it out for Syracuse and deserves to come up?” Cooper said. “Blunden’s one of those guys right now.”
GOING FOR THE SWEEP
The Lightning have won all three previous matchups against the Sabres this season, outscoring Buffalo 10-3. Tampa Bay won in Buffalo five days ago, Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov all scoring first period goals to give the Lightning their first and only lead this season going into the second period.
The Lightning have won seven in a row and are 10-1-1 in their last 12 games against Buffalo.
But despite the recent success against the Sabres, the Lightning aren’t taking them lightly.
“We’re sitting here 3-0 against Buffalo this year, and probably don’t deserve to be,” Cooper said. “We have to find somehow, someway to make it 4-0. We can’t sit here and say, ‘Oh, we’ve beaten these guys three times. This is going to be easy.’ There’s no way. Let’s be honest, a few of these periods, they’ve dominated us more than any other team has dominated us this year.”
In Tampa Bay’s 4-1 win at Buffalo on Nov. 5, the Sabres outshot the Lightning 21-8 in the second period, the 21 shots the most the Bolts have given up in a single period this season. In their previous meeting Oct. 17, Buffalo outshot the Lightning 16-3 at Amalie Arena and led 1-0 after the first period before the Bolts rallied for a 2-1 victory.
Said Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman: “We haven’t played well for 60 minutes in a lot of games so far this year, and that’s what we want to do.”
The Lightning play six of their next seven games at Amalie Arena after starting the season with 11 of their first 16 on the road. The extended set of games at home will be a critical opportunity for Tampa Bay to show some consistency in its play and accumulate more points.
Currently, the Lightning would be the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference if the playoffs were to begin today.
“This is a chance to kind of rebound,” Lightning forward Alex Killorn said. “We’re happy to be home. The crowd’s going to be great tonight, and hopefully we can build off their enthusiasm.”
The Lightning play all four regular season matchups against Buffalo in the first 17 games…The Bolts are 5-0-0 when leading after the second period but 0-5-0 when trailing after two…Cooper said Nikita Nesterov would be the odd-man out of the lineup for the Lightning defense tonight, provided there isn’t an unforeseen injury between morning skate and pregame warmups…Tampa Bay has given up three or fewer goals in its last nine games but is just 3-5-1 over that stretch…Andrei Vasilevskiy was the first goaltender off the ice at today’s morning skate, which normally indicates he would start tonight. Vasilevskiy held Buffalo to one goal and made 30 saves in a 4-1 Bolts win five days ago. The Russian goalie is 3-0-0 all-time versus the Sabres and recorded the only shutout of his NHL career last season against Buffalo (March 3, 2015).