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Paquette slated to return as Lightning host Predators

The forward, who missed six games with a lower-body injury, is healthy and available for tonight's game at AMALIE Arena.

by Bryan Burns /

The Tampa Bay Lightning will close out a season-long five-game home stand tonight when they host the Nashville Predators at AMALIE Arena (7:30 p.m. puck drop).

They'll have one of their regulars back in action too for the home stand finale.

Cedric Paquette has missed the last six games with a lower-body injury suffered December 20 in a home game versus Detroit. He's healthy again, however, and available to play against the Predators.

"It's always tough to sit out," Paquette said following the Lightning's optional morning skate on Thursday. "I wasn't expecting to miss so many games but I felt good today and ready for tonight."

Brian Boyle (lower-body injury) remains out and will miss his second-straight game. With a number of forwards injured recently, call-ups like Matthew Peca and Adam Erne have helped keep the Bolts afloat until they get healthy. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said that pair has earned the right to stay in the lineup.

"They don't give you a reason to pull them out," Cooper said. "They're playing hard. They're playing with speed. They're playing with pace. That's what we need. Peca's been rewarded with a couple of points here in the past couple of games. Now it's up to them to make sure they don't take a step back, which can happen with some of these new guys when they come up. They've been an asset for us, and we expect them to keep doing the same things moving forward."

Video: Paquette on making return to lineup vs. NSH

BISHOP NEARS RETURN: Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop suffered a lower-body injury in the December 20 victory over Detroit and has missed six games since but is on pace to return in mid-January Cooper said.

Yesterday, Bishop skated prior to Lightning practice and even took a couple shots from his teammates who had trickled onto the ice for practice before exiting. Today, Bishop participated in the Bolts' optional morning skate along with Andrei Vasilevskiy and recently recalled Adam Wilcox.

Vasilevskiy will make his seventh-straight start tonight.

Bishop was slated to miss three to four weeks when he went down.

"We're hoping, maybe California," Cooper said, referring to the Lightning's road trip starting January 16 at Los Angeles. "If he comes back earlier, that's good for us. I think we've always said California. Hopefully he comes back then."

Video: Wilcox on callup from the Syracuse Crunch

WILCOX EARNS FIRST RECALL: Adam Wilcox has had a standout season for the Lightning's AHL affiliate in Syracuse, going 13-5-2 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .901 save percentage. His 13 wins rank tied for fifth in the AHL and are already a career high after putting up just nine wins all of last season with the Crunch.

Wednesday afternoon, the Lightning flipped goalies with the Crunch, sending Kristers Gudlevskis back to Syracuse and recalling Wilcox.

The South St. Paul, Minn., native said he was getting in his car Wednesday to go to the Crunch's poker tournament when he checked his phone and realized he had a voicemail from Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

"I though it's either good or bad, so I called him right back and he told me I was being recalled," Wilcox said Thursday. "I almost blacked out. I was so excited. I started shaking. It's kind of like one of those once in a lifetime feelings your first call up. It was pretty special."

The last few weeks have been filled with watershed moments for the 24 year old. On December 23, Wilcox proposed to his high school sweetheart Jayna Anderson.

Anderson said yes.

"It's one of those times where you kind of get everything thrown at you at once," Wilcox said. "I was thinking about that yesterday where my friends were texting me. I've had a lot of texts lately saying congrats for the engagement and the call-up, so it's one of those things where once you get here, you put the emotions aside and stick to everything you've been doing to get here in the first place."

If Wilcox gets into a game with the Lightning, he will be the fifth player to make his NHL debut this season, joining Brayden Point, Tanner Richard, Matthew Peca and Adam Erne.

"Kristers hasn't played since he's been up here so this was an opportunity to get him games," Cooper said of sending Kristers back to Syracuse and bringing Wilcox up. "Wilcox has been playing all the time (in Syracuse), but it's not saying he's not going to play. Obviously, Vasy's playing tonight, but now we've got a couple of back to backs coming up, and we're just going to have to monitor how we're going to play our goalie situation moving forward here. We're not ready to commit what's going to happen."

Wilcox said he's a different goalie than the one that struggled in 2015-16 during his first pro season in Syracuse when he posted a 3.18 GAA and .875 save percentage.

"Everything about my game has really gotten better," Wilcox said. "(Lightning goaltending coach) Frantz (Jean) and (Syracuse Crunch goaltending coach Dave Alexander)…really kind of drilled into me, and, I think after last year, I had to have a good summer. Coming into this year, I had to have a good start and establish myself because it's a contract year. Obviously, that always weighs on you. So for me, it's been a huge jump. Everything from being calm, controlled, puck playing to death, everything kind of had to get better. So it was a big summer for working on all that."

Video: Koekkoek on Lightning not making excuses

ICE CHIPS: Nikita Kucherov can tie Rob Zamuner for 10th place on the Lightning's franchise goals list with one more goal. Kucherov, who had a pair of power-play goals in Tampa Bay's 6-4 loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday, has 83 career goals. Zamuner finished with 84…Kucherov has recorded multiple points in three of his last four games and is on a four-game point streak since returning from a lower-body injury…The Lightning have fallen behind by two goals in five of their last six games but have rallied to win two and are 2-2-1 over that stretch…Bolts defenseman Victor Hedman ranks second in the NHL for assists (28) and is tied for first with San Jose's Brent Burns among league blueliners for scoring (35 points).

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