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Pre-Game Notebook: Banged-Up Bolts Battle Blue Jackets

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning begin a three-game road trip tonight in Columbus, but they’ll do so without five key members of their team.

Tyler Johnson (undiscosed), Ondrej Palat (lower body), Jonathan Drouin (lower body) Cedric Paquette (upper body) and Erik Condra (lower body) were all absent from the Lightning’s morning skate at Nationwide Arena. The possibility exists the quintet will not play at all on the road trip, which concludes Friday in Washington D.C. against the Capitals.

“Anytime anybody’s hurt, it’s not good news,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “All these guys have gone through a battery of tests so we can get a better feel for what’s going on and try to get them back.”

The closest to getting back in the lineup appears to be Erik Condra, who skated on his own Monday after the Lightning came off the ice. Cooper said Condra could potentially make his return on Friday in D.C.

Condra has missed the last three games

“We’ll see about Friday…It’s dicey,” Cooper said.

When asked if Johnson might be back Friday, Cooper responded “probably not.”

When asked if Paquette might be back Friday, Cooper responded “definitely not.”

With so many players out of the lineup, the Lightning recalled right wing Joel Vermin and center Yanni Gourde from Syracuse. Vermin made his NHL debut earlier this season with the Bolts on Nov. 19 against the New York Rangers and recorded his first league point (an assist) the next game vs. Anaheim (Nov. 21).

Gourde has yet to play in a NHL game

“It’s been a struggle with injuries, but I think the guys we’ve called up have done a great job,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “For the most part, it’s guys that have been around this organization for a couple of years, guys that we’re comfortable with and know from camp or playing together in some exhibition games. I think the guys for the most part feel pretty comfortable when they’re up, and their play shows that.”

AN EVENING WITH YANNI

Yanni Gourde could potentially make his NHL debut when the Lightning face Columbus tonight at Nationwide Arena.

Gourde has recorded five goals and eight assists in 24 games with Syracuse this season and ranks third (tie) on the Crunch for points (13) and fourth (tie) for goals. Gourde led the Crunch last season for goals (29) and power-play goals (8).

“I’m very excited,” Gourde said. “It’s a dream come true. I worked very hard to get here. I went through the East Coast (Hockey League), the AHL, so I know what it takes.”

Cooper said he wasn’t sure if Gourde would draw in tonight but was impressed with his development during his time in the Lightning organization.

“The one thing about Yanni, I think he’s probably played in every pro league all the way up,” Cooper said. “For him to be here in the National Hockey League, it’s a pretty cool story actually…He’s somebody that has earned his way up here.”

Gourde pointed to the success of Joel Vermin in his first few NHL games earlier this year as confirmation he can play in this league.

“We’re similar players, so it’s good to see him have success,” Gourde said. “It means I’m not that far away from being able to do that too.

NEW IN NET

Columbus goaltender Joonas Korpisalo will make his first NHL start in tonight’s game according to Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella.

Korpisalo was 5-4-2 with a 2.12 GAA and .928 save percentage in 11 games with Columbus’ AHL affiliate in Lake Erie. He led all AHL rookies and was seventh overall in the league for GAA and save percentage.

“Teams seem to play really well when it’s a guy’s first game, so knowing that, we know they’re probably going to bring a little bit extra,” said Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop, who was the first goalie off the ice for morning skate and will make his 24th start of the season tonight.

Bishop recalls being “extremely nervous” for his first NHL game Oct. 24, 2008, versus the Los Angeles Kings.

“It’s one of those things you’ll never forget,” he said. “You’ve just got to try to keep the nerves down as little as possible because they get pretty high the first few minutes.”

ODDS AND ENDS

The Lightning will face former head coach John Tortorella, who is 11-10-3 since taking over as Columbus’ head coach. Tortorella coached the Lightning for parts of seven seasons (2000-01 to 2007-08) and remains the all-time winningest coach in Bolts history, compiling a record of 239-222-38 with 36 ties and leading the franchise to its only Stanley Cup (2004)…Bolts forward Nikita Kucherov has scored five goals over his last four games…The Lightning were victorious in their lone visit to Columbus last season, matching a season high with seven goals in a 7-4 victory.

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