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Lightning return home to face Flyers after road trip

Tampa Bay is excited to get back to AMALIE Arena after finishing 4-1 during its five-game road trip.

by Bryan Burns /

Following a five-game road trip in which the Tampa Bay Lightning finished with a 4-1-0 record, the Lightning return home to AMALIE Arena tonight to take on the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Lightning can be excused if it takes them a few shifts to re-acclimate themselves to their home surroundings. Monday's game in Nashville was the conclusion of a lengthy stretch where the Bolts played 12 of 16 games on the road. 

"I think everyone's pretty happy to get home," Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. "The start of the season's been a little bit weird with this many road games and how often we've been on the road lately. It's good to be home. I think the guys are ready to play in front of our home crowd and keep going that way."

The Lightning have two games at home sandwiched around Thanksgiving -- tonight versus the Flyers and Friday against Columbus - before heading back out on the road for a three-game trip starting Sunday at Boston.

But the December schedule is a bit more palatable for the Bolts as they play eight games at home compared to six on the road.

Video: Cooper on facing the Philadelphia Flyers

FAMILIAR FACES: The Lightning take on Philadelphia just four days after shutting out the Flyers 3-0 at the Wells Fargo Center.

In that victory, Andrei Vasilevskiy made 32 saves to record his second-straight shutout. Vasilevskiy hasn't allowed a goal in his last 151 minutes.

Vasilevskiy will start again versus Philadelphia tonight as he was the first goalie off the ice from morning skate.

"The biggest thing for us is we had a lot of success on our penalty kill against a top flight power play in Philly," Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said. "Their power play was at it last night and propelled them to a win, and you have to stop that. It's not guaranteeing you a win, but it's going to help your cause. There's some pretty good players on that other team, and stopping their power play is a big point for us."

Philadelphia enters tonight's game with the second-best power play in the league, converting 27.1 percent of their man-advantage opportunities. The Lightning are right behind in third place at 25.3 percent.

In their meeting Saturday, the Bolts found themselves on the penalty kill five times against the Flyers but were able to shut down one of the league's hottest special teams units.

"They're a very good offense," Bolts forward Ryan Callahan said. "Obviously, they're a very talented power play, one of the top in the league. A big concern for ours is making sure we're staying out of the box, keep them off the ice."

Saturday's game was extremely physical as a number of Bolts were forced to leave the ice for an extended period after getting banged up. Former Tampa Bay defenseman Radko Gudas and Bolts forward J.T. Brown got into a memorable fight after Gudas wiped out Callahan and Brown retaliated. 

The Bolts expect a similarly hard-hitting game again tonight.

"They have a lot of guys on their team that like to play with an edge, and we have guys that don't back down," Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. "So, we'll see how it goes, but we're going to be focusing on our game, focusing on our team speed and using that. Whatever else happens, happens."

Video: Johnson on preparing for the Flyers

THE LINE BLENDER: With recent injuries to Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman, the Lightning have been forced to mix up their lines and defensive pairings in recent games.

While not ideal, the switching does give players the opportunity to familiarize themselves with other teammates and the coaches a chance to see what works and what doesn't between different combinations of players.

"Have guys adapted well? They have," Cooper said. "Is that the fact that we've been together for a little while? There's a little familiarity with everybody. I think that's part of it. Guys are doing whatever they can to win hockey games. I know we didn't get through that Nashville game, but to come out with eight out of ten points on that road trip was big for us. Now we can't hang our hat on that. We've got to move forward here with these home games. It's even more now that we've got different guys playing with each other. We've just got to make sure that chemistry keeps going."

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, who has skated with Stralman for most of the past three seasons but paired with Nikita Nesterov in the Nashville loss and saw time with Andrej Sustr during morning skate, said the Bolts have been together for so long that anyone can skate with one another and make it work.

"It doesn't matter who you play with," he said. "If you play with six D or seven D, obviously with seven D, you mix it up even more. I think it's good for us to rotate pairings. You've just got to make sure that you get the job done as soon as you're out there. That's been the biggest key for us on this road trip is you've got to make sure you know who you're out there against and…reading situations and everything like that. I think we did a good job of that this road trip, and we want to keep that going."

Video: Hedman on upcoming matchup vs. PHI

ODDS AND ENDS: Brian Boyle did not participate in the Bolts' morning skate Wednesday and, shortly after, the team announced he's day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Boyle sustained an upper-body injury before Saturday's game against the Flyers and missed his first game of the season but was back in the lineup for Monday's loss at Nashville…Tonight's starting Bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy continues to lead the NHL for save percentage (.953) and goals-against average (1.43)…Bolts forward Nikita Kucherov ranks tied for second in the league for scoring (9-14-23) and collected seven points (4 goals, 3 assists) on the recently-completed five-game road trip. "He's fun to watch, and he's a game changer every night he's out there," Hedman said…With Boyle out, Luke Witkowski could make his second start of the season tonight, especially if the Bolts decide to skate with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. "He's a horse back there," Hedman said. "He's physical. He skates well, and he's very hard to play against. Whenever he's in the lineup, you know what you're going to get from him…The Lightning recalled Erik Condra from Syracuse a day after sending him back to the Crunch. Condra has yet to play a NHL game this season but could make his debut tonight.

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