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Lightning go for four in a row Friday versus Penguins

by Staff Writer / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning won their third-straight game on Tuesday with a dominant, shutout performance over the Colorado Avalanche.

Tonight, at Amalie Arena versus the Pittsburgh Penguins, they’ll try to make it four wins in a row, something they’ve yet to achieve this season.

The Lightning have won three-consecutive games on three separate occasions in 2015-16 but haven’t put together a win streak of more than three.

“I think in the season, we’ve had spurts, but I think as far as complete games go, I think (the Colorado victory) was probably one of our best stretches for sure,” said Lightning center Tyler Johnson, who scored his first goal since November 25 in the win over the Avalanche. “There’s still room to improve, still things we need to be better at, but I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

Following Tuesday’s victory, the Lightning jumped into seventh place in the Eastern Conference, a spot they still occupy currently. With four-straight games at home and seven of their next eight at Amalie Arena, the Lightning have a perfect opportunity to continue climbing in the standings.

“I think the last couple games, start to finish, we played a full 60 minutes,” Bolts center Vladislav Namestnikov said. “That’s why we got the wins. I think we have to continue doing that and we’ll have success.”

KILLER PENGUINS

Tyler Johnson registered a hat trick in Pittsburgh’s last visit to Amalie Arena on December 23, 2014, to power the Bolts past the Penguins 4-3.

The Lightning, however, haven’t had much success against Pittsburgh in recent times.

Last season’s victory snapped a four-game home losing streak to Pittsburgh for the Lightning. The Bolts have dropped 10 of their last 11 to the Penguins overall.

“I don’t put a whole lot of onus on what’s happened in years past,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “We hadn’t won in Colorado since 2004. We hadn’t won in Edmonton since 2007, so we’ve kind of knocked a few of these off.”

The Lightning find themselves in a similar situation as Pittsburgh this season. Both teams came into the season with high expectations but have struggled to meet them, at least through the first half of the season.

Pittsburgh is in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division and two points behind the Lightning in the race for a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

“We’re probably a couple teams you don’t want to run into at some point when the teams are rolling,” Cooper said. “Pittsburgh is one of those teams, just too much talent, they’ve won before, their leaders have won before, but every year’s different.”

The Penguins come into tonight’s game having lost three of their last four but have collected four points over that stretch. Pittsburgh closes out a 10-day, four-game road trip tonight in Tampa.

VLAD TO BE HERE

In his game-day press conference, Cooper was asked which Lightning player grew the most following the Bolts’ spate of injuries over the first half of the season.

Without hesitation, Cooper singled out Vladislav Namestnikov, who has recorded assists in three-straight games and has five helpers over that stretch. Namestnikov also shares the Lightning plus/minus lead with Victor Hedman at plus-12.

“He was one of those guys [coming into the season] we weren’t sure where he was going to slot, especially when you look at our team and how they finished the playoffs,” Cooper said. “He wasn’t in the top nine. When you’ve got your team coming back, you’re looking for guys, ‘OK, who’s going to step up and contribute?’ And especially when all the injuries came into play, Vladdy elevated his game. He got his chance, he had success and he didn’t give our coaching staff a chance to push him back down the lineup.”

In recent games, Namestnikov has centered the top line with Steven Stamkos on his right and Ondrej Palat to his left. That line connected for a pair of goals in the Bolts’ 4-0 win over the Avalanche and has been a dangerous combination for opponents to contend with.

“They’re both awesome players, easy to play with,” Namestnikov said. “The past three games we’ve gotten lots of scoring. Hopefully we can continue.”

Namestnikov said the increased ice time as well as a spot on the top line has made him feel more comfortable with his game.

“You just have to take advantage of (the situation) and play your game,” he said.

ODDS AND ENDS

Andrei Vasilevskiy was the first Lightning goaltender off the ice for today’s optional morning skate, meaning he’ll likely start tonight versus Pittsburgh. Vasilevskiy is 1-0-0 in his lone appearance against the Penguins. Tampa Bay regular starting goaltender Ben Bishop has yet to defeat the Pens in his career, going 0-2-0 in five games played…The Lightning are 3-3-0 in the opening game of a multi-game homestand this season…Steven Stamkos is four goals away from his 300th career NHL goal…Tampa Bay ranks fourth in the NHL for goals against at 2.30.

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