The Lightning held practice at the Kettler IcePlex in Arlington, Virginia yesterday after Sunday’s game against the Capitals. Defensemen Mattias Ohlund and Victor Hedman did not practice for some preventative body maintenance. Neither is expected to miss any time, however. Sunday’s game was a tough one for the Bolts after coming from behind in the third period to tie the Eastern Conference’s top team only to fall, 3-2, on a late goal by Alex Ovechkin. Once again though, being able to come back on a team of that caliber should help the team’s confidence heading into tonight’s game against the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena.
It is a familiar story for the Lightning entering tonight’s match-up. Once again the Bolts find themselves in a playoff-type game that they need to win. With seven games remaining before the Olympic break, Tampa Bay will play five of those against teams they are battling for playoff positioning with. The Thrashers are currently in the ninth position, one point ahead of the Lightning. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out the importance of tonight’s game.
Antero Niittymaki will get the start in goal after getting a breather on Sunday against Washington. He brings a 15-0-0 career record against Atlanta into the game and has been extremely hot of late, posting a 4-1-1 record with a .934 save percentage in his previous six games. With Paul Szczechura being assigned to Norfolk for conditioning on Sunday, Brandon Bochenski is the only extra player with the team and he will be a game-time decision tonight.
Steven Stamkos, riding a six-game point streak into tonight’s game, continues to impress. He has shown pin-point accuracy on the power play and has displayed what Rick Tocchet called Ovechkin-like ability from the circle with the one-time. Entering tonight’s game Stamkos is tied for the league lead in power play goals with 12 and power play points with 26. Another interesting note, two of the three active players who recorded 100 points before turning 20-years-old will be on display tonight at Philips Arena. Stamkos and Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk are two while Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby is the other.
The Lightning will travel home tonight after the game and begin preparations for Thursday’s game against the New York Islanders, another team battling for one of the three playoff positions up for grabs.