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Bolts-Sharks matchup pits two of NHL's best teams

San Jose comes to AMALIE Arena fresh off a run to the Stanley Cup Final last season.

by Bryan Burns /

Tonight's game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and San Jose Sharks at AMALIE Arena could be the preview to a potential Stanley Cup Final matchup if recent history is any indicator.

Tampa Bay is two seasons removed from a trip to the Cup Final and was within a game of returning to it last season.

San Jose is the defending Western Conference champion.

Both teams play a similar type of game too.

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said watching the Sharks on film is a bit like looking in a mirror.

Video: Cooper on matchup vs. San Jose

"We both have a star-studded player on the back end and star-studded players up front, good goaltending, both have outstanding coaches," Cooper said, eliciting laughter from the media with that last comment during his post-morning skate press conference. 

"You have two teams that have been to the Final in the last two years and I think that played kind of a similar style. You sit there and you pre-scout them and you kind of say, "Oh, that looks familiar, that looks familiar' more than any other team that we've seen, so this should be a good one tonight. Not so much that there's a rivalry between San Jose and Tampa Bay, but you've watched two Stanley Cup finalists the past couple of years and you should see some good hockey tonight."


Special teams could play a big role in determining a winner. The Lightning own the NHL's third best power play with 15 goals on 57 attempts. San Jose's penalty kill is tied for fifth best in the league at 88.6 percent. The Sharks are also allowing only 8.5 penalty minutes a game, tied for seventh least in the NHL.

"You win the special teams war, there's a good chance you're going to win the game," Cooper said. 

"You look at the power play for San Jose, they've been together for so long and I'm sure there are a lot of teams in the league trying to model themselves off a San Jose power play or a Washington power play or something like that. So it'd be really nice to keep them off so you don't have to worry about that, but to me it's teams that have strong penalty kills. That kind of bodes well for you, being a playoff team and moving on in the playoffs. The power play can sometimes bail you out of games, but it's the PK that helps you win games. It keeps you in games. That'll be a big thing for us tonight. Hopefully (we) don't take any penalties, and if they do we've got to try to capitalize."

DROUIN GETTING CLOSER: Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin practiced with his teammates Saturday for the first time since taking a high, hard shot from the Islanders' Calvin de Haan in the Bolts' 6-1 victory at Barclays Center on Nov. 1.

Drouin participated in Tampa Bay's optional morning skate wearing a grey jersey.

The gifted forward has missed the last four games with an upper-body injury.

Cooper said Drouin won't play tonight but is encouraged by his progress and expects him back in the lineup soon.

"He's going to come on the road with us," Cooper said, referring to the Bolts' upcoming five-game road trip. "Don't have any updates now, but hopefully here on the road, he's going to jump in. I couldn't tell you if it's the first game or the fifth game. He's coming with us."

The Lightning have gone 3-1-1 with Drouin out of the lineup, including the game against the Islanders when he was hurt in the first minute and the Bolts were without him for the majority of the game. But his teammates are eager to get Drouin and his unique set of skills and talent back out on the ice.

Video: Callahan on Bolts' consistent play

"You always miss a guy like that of that caliber when he's out," Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan said. "But it gives other guys a chance to step up and play rolls maybe they haven't. I thought guys have done well with that. You always welcome a guy like that back though when he's ready."

ROUNDING INTO FORM: Since a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of the New York Rangers on October 30, the Lightning have found a level of consistency that was missing from their game through much of October.

The Bolts followed that humiliating loss by delivering one of their own to the Islanders and have gone 3-1-1 since. And even in defeat, the Lightning picked up a point against a Boston team that has perennially given them trouble and were good enough to beat Florida in Sunrise but were overmatched by the play of Roberto Luongo in net.

Cooper said the Bolts' consistency is a result of paying more attention to their net than the opposition's.

"The chances we're giving up are much lower than what we had been at the beginning of the season," he said. "We've given up, since the Ranger game, we've played five games, I think we've given up eight goals, not including the empty netter (at Florida). So if we're going to give up eight goals every five games, that's more where we want to be at as a team. Coincidentally that's how we've been winning games. 

"The one game we did lose in that stretch, we just couldn't score. We trust in our scoring abilities, we just can't rely on them. We have to play D and finding us in the first ten games of the year as a bottom-five team in goals against is not where our success has come from. But in the last, as I said, five games we've been really good, and we've just got to keep doing that."

The Lightning currently rank tied for 19th in the league for goals against at 2.71 per game, a dramatic improvement from where the Bolts were following the loss in Madison Square Garden.

Video: Bishop on the San Jose Sharks

ODDS AND ENDS: Ben Bishop will start in net tonight for the Lightning. He's given up two goals or less in his last three starts, going 2-1-0 over that stretch. "I think the first few games it was still kind of feeling things out, personally just kind of getting back into the swing of things," Bishop said. "Recently, I've kind of felt like my old self."…Bishop sported a new mask during Bolts morning skate but said he won't be wearing it tonight…Steven Stamkos ranks tied for third in the NHL for scoring with 17 points, and Nikita Kucherov is tied for seventh for scoring with 16 points…Stamkos is just one power play goal away from tying Vincent Lecavalier for most all-time in Lightning history. Stamkos has 111 career power-play goals; Lecavalier 112…The Lightning haven't beaten the Sharks at home since a 6-5 overtime win on February 16, 2012, dropping three straight since…Tampa Bay is 8-0-1 this season when scoring three or more goals and 0-5-0 when scoring less than three.

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