The Lightning will get back on home ice for four consecutive games starting tonight against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. They will play five of their next six games overall at the St. Pete Times Forum. It will not be an easy stretch though with games against division leaders Pittsburgh, the Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals as well as a Tuesday showdown with the upstart Phoenix Coyotes who are fourth in the Western Conference. Hopefully the Lightning can use the home ice advantage, where they are 18-8-6 this season, as a way to get back into the top eight in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Head Coach Rick Tocchet admitted that today will be a playoff-type game. Coming off Friday night’s victory against the top team in the NHL, Washington, the Bolts will look to carry that momentum into today. Tocchet said he thought the entire team played well on Friday and they will need a similar effort tonight.
It looks like Antero Niittymaki will get the start in between the pipes coming off Friday’s win. The rest of the line up will look the same as well with Mattias Ohlund, Ryan Malone, Zenon Konopka and David Hale still nursing some injuries. Ohlund has been undergoing some “aggressive therapy” and said today he probably won’t skate tomorrow but hopes to be back on the ice by Tuesday. Konopka said this stretch has been one of the toughest parts of his career. He admitted that he has never missed this much time in his career, usually playing through most of the bumps and bruises. Konopka said today that the mental part of being out of the line up is the hardest part to deal with. Unfortunately, he will not be in the line up with his sister, Cynthia, singing the national anthem today. “At least one Konopka will be in the line up tonight,” Konopka joked.
Tocchet talked extensively this morning about Mike Lundin, who has emerged as the Lightning’s top shutdown defenseman. Lundin has done a great job this season shutting down some of the top players in the NHL including Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Ovechkin. Tocchet said most of his success comes from the way he closes the gap on players entering the offensive zone. He isn’t afraid to get in the face off opponents and limit their time and space. Tocchet said if you just back up against those types of players they will find a way to beat you.
The coach gave the players the option to skate today or yesterday. With the 5 p.m. game tonight players took to the ice at 9 a.m. today followed by a 10 a.m. meeting. Tocchet also told the media this morning that he wanted to make sure the team was focused for tonight’s game, admitting that the Bolts will need mentally ready tonight.
The game will be on Sun Sports and 620WDAE today at 5 p.m. Tomorrow the team is scheduled to practice before taking on the Coyotes on Tuesday.