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Tonight we get to enjoy a rare visit by the Columbus Blue Jackets, who haven’t played in Tampa since the Lightning earned a 4-2 victory in the 2005-06 season. The Lightning own a 4-3-1 all-time record against Columbus (3-1 at the St. Pete Times Forum), but this isn’t the Columbus team you might remember. Tonight you’ll have a chance to see one of the better defensive teams in the NHL featuring a goaltender, Steve Mason, who leads the league with nine shutouts and is second with a 2.23 goals-against average.
“Columbus is a big team that plays North and South,” Interim Head Coach Rick Tocchet said, alluding to the fact that Columbus likes to strike quickly. “They can embarrass you if you’re not ready.”
It’ll be a tough challenge for the Lightning tonight, but hopefully rookie Steven Stamkos
can continue to chase the Tampa Bay rookie record for goals. Stamkos sits at 18 with 10 games remaining, needing three to tie Brad Richards’ mark of 21 (set in 2000-01). Tocchet said this morning that Stamkos has already added nine pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-1 frame since he started a more rigorous training regimen in early January. Impressive.
Tocchet’s lineup decisions were made easy on him today, with Paul Szczechura picking up a lower body injury in practice yesterday. With no healthy extras, Noah Welch will return on defense and David Koci will likely take his shifts at forward, though it’s possible he could play D as well. Mike McKenna will get the start.
Don’t forget that Fan Appreciation starts tonight and continues through the final three home games of the 2008-09 season. Among the scheduled extras tonight are autograph signings by goaltender Mike Smith and Szczechura during the first intermission. Check LightningVision for locations.