The Tampa Bay Lightning could welcome Brian Boyle back to the lineup tonight when they host the Montreal Canadiens in a rematch of last season’s Second Round Stanley Cup Playoffs series.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said Boyle is “really close” to being ready. The Bolts’ third-leading scorer with eight goals has missed the last two games because of an upper-body injury.
“I would suspect Boyle is going to play tonight,” Cooper said.
The Lightning could get an additional boost with the return of Tyler Johnson, who has sat the last seven games, also with an upper-body injury. Cooper said Johnson’s “close” and might return tonight, although he’s less likely to make an appearance than Boyle.
“(Johnson’s) up in the air still,” Cooper said.
As for the other two injured Lightning forwards, Ondrej Palat (lower-body injury) and Jonathan Drouin (lower-body injury) still need time.
“Palat and (Drouin) aren’t as close,” Cooper said. “…You’ve got to err on the side of caution because you don’t want this to happen again.”
With the regulars returning or nearing a return to the lineup, Cooper said it’s important for the Lightning to continue playing the way they have recently.
“We’re not sitting here saying, ‘Oh, these guys are back. We’re all set,’ because as soon as we have that mindset, we’re done,” Cooper said. “We’ve kind of re-invented ourselves in the last month-and-a-half, two months here with all these new guys, and our attitude’s been unreal in the room. So, we’ve got to keep kind of that fire in the belly going here as we move forward and get all these guys back.”
After starting the season winning their first nine games, the Montreal Canadiens have cooled considerably since, losing their last six games and 10 of their last 11.
The stumble has caused a tumble in the standings, the Canadiens falling out of first place in the Atlantic Division for the first time this season, Florida (44 points) overtaking the Habs (43) for the top spot in the Atlantic.
The Lightning are right in the mix as well with 39 points. Just five points separate the division leader from the sixth-place Bolts, meaning tonight’s game against a divisional foe takes on added significance.
“It’s big,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “You look at how close it is, I don’t think any team in our division should think they’re out of it by any means. Four to six points, you can make that up pretty quick in this league, especially against divisional opponents. It's a good opportunity for us to get right back in the mix for ultimately first in the division.”
Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop, who will make his 29th start of the season tonight, said he tries not to pay too much attention to the standings at this point in the season because they can fluctuate drastically in just a few weeks. It’s hard for Bishop not to take a peek every now and then, though, because next to his stall on a dry erase board in the Lightning locker room hangs the updated NHL standings.
“We knew it was going to be a tight race,” Bishop said. “I think every team in this division is really good. There were no bottom feeders like there were last year, so every game’s going to be important and tonight’s no different.”
Montreal will be looking for revenge when they take on the Lightning tonight at Amalie Arena. The Bolts defeated the Habs four-games-to-two in the Second Round of last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs en route to the Stanley Cup Final. The Canadiens won the Atlantic Division in 2014-15 but were bounced by the lower-seeded Bolts.
“It’s been a while since we played them,” Bishop said. “Obviously, this long in the season to play them, I’m sure there will be a little bit of a feeling out process, but, it’ll be fun. They’re one of the top teams in our division, and they’re a good team. It’ll be good to see where we are.”
The Lightning swept all five regular-season meetings with Montreal in 2014-15, outscoring the Habs 21-8 in the process.
Tampa Bay has won seven in a row overall in the regular season against Montreal.
ODDS AND ENDS
Ben Bishop will play in his 200th NHL game tonight, provided he starts as expected. Bishop has played 163 games with the Lightning, 23 with Ottawa and 13 with St. Louis over his seven-year NHL career…Tampa Bay has scored a power-play goal in three-straight games and has six power-play markers over that stretch…With two goals on Saturday, Steven Stamkos moved into a tie for 10th place on the NHL’s goal leader list. Stamkos has 16 goals so far this season and has scored five goals over his last four games…The Lightning have allowed the least amount of 5-on-5 goals in the NHL (47).