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At the Rink: Lightning at Islanders

by John Kreiser

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- One night after three of his Tampa Bay Lightning teammates had a homecoming, it’s goaltender Evgeni Nabokov’s turn Tuesday.

Defenseman Anton Stralman and forwards Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle got applause and a video tribute Monday in their first game back at Madison Square Garden. Callahan was the New York Rangers’ captain until being traded to the Lightning in March; Stralman and Boyle were part of the team that made the Stanley Cup Final last spring.

Nabokov figures to get a warm welcome Tuesday at Nassau Coliseum, where he was the New York Islanders’ starting goaltender for the past three seasons before signing with the Lightning during the summer. He’s expected to be in goal when the Lightning go for their third straight win and second against the Islanders in a four-day span.

“The old guard is coming in to protect his turf,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said with a laugh Tuesday morning when asked if Nabokov would play against his former team.

Nabokov undoubtedly would like to have the same kind of success as Callahan, who scored two goals against his former team in a 5-1 victory.

Cooper said there was no question Nabokov would start this game.

“I know this is a big night for him,” Cooper said. “I know he had a twinkle in his eye when he looked at the schedule. We knew all along he’s be playing this one. We’re really excited for him, and I know the guys will play hard for him.”

This will be the fifth start of the season for Nabokov and his first since Nov. 8, when he got the win in a 7-4 road victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Ben Bishop has started the past five games, including a 5-2 home win against the Islanders on Saturday and the victory against the Rangers on Monday.

The Islanders were glad to have the chance to renew acquaintances with Nabokov on Saturday, but forward Josh Bailey said the smiles and good feelings will disappear when the puck drops.

“He’s a super guy,” Bailey said. “He’s a great teammate, a great goalie and he was a great veteran presence for our team for the time he was here, and definitely a great friend of everyone in this room. That being said, we’re going to want to put it to him tonight, and I think he’s going to want to do the same to us.”

Islanders captain John Tavares said he’s excited to face Nabokov.

“He was a great teammate. He fit really well in this locker room and made a big impact on a lot of us, especially myself,” Tavares said. “He’s an extremely hard worker and played on some pretty good San Jose teams that had success for a long time, so you’d try to pick his brain about some of those things.

“He definitely taught me a lot, especially about goaltending and the other goaltenders in the League. I’m excited to go up against him, and I know he’s probably excited to play against us and show he’s still got a lot left in the tank.”

Nabokov is expected to face his successor as New York’s starting goaltender, Jaroslav Halak, who will be going for his fifth consecutive victory. Tavares said the Islanders will have to step up their play after having their five-game winning streak ended by the Lightning.

“We want to play a little more aggressive, be a little better in our own zone, especially early in the game,” Tavares said. “In the last game, we were a little sloppy. We have to be good defensively and not make things easy; they have a lot of guys who can make plays, so we have to make smart puck decisions and try to create a little bit more on the forecheck and on the cycle.”

Here are the projected lineups:

LIGHTNING

Valtteri FilppulaSteven StamkosRyan Callahan

Ondrej PalatTyler JohnsonNikita Kucherov

Jonathan DrouinVladislav NamestnikovAlex Killorn

Brenden MorrowBrian Boyle - Cedric Paquette

Matthew CarleAnton Stralman

Andrej SustrMark Barberio

Jason GarrisonRadko Gudas

Evgeni Nabokov

Ben Bishop

Scratched: J.T. Brown, Eric Brewer

Injured: Victor Hedman (fractured finger), Brett Connolly (lower body)

ISLANDERS

Nikolay Kulemin - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo

Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Mikhail Grabovski

Anders Lee - Brock Nelson - Ryan Strome

Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck

Calvin de Haan - Travis Hamonic

Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk

Thomas Hickey - Lubomir Visnovsky

Jaroslav Halak

Chad Johnson

Scratched: Matt Donovan, Brian Strait, Cory Conacher

Injured: Matt Carkner (back), Michael Grabner (lower body), Eric Boulton (lower body)

Status report: Hedman is on the trip and has been skating but is not ready to return. Connolly is closer to a return but isn’t expected to play Tuesday, though he could be back by the weekend. … Grabner, who had hernia surgery, has yet to play this season but skated at practice Monday and Tuesday, though he wore a non-contact jersey. He could be back within a week, which will force the Islanders to make a roster move. Clutterbuck will return after missing the loss at Tampa Bay with a lower-body injury.

Who's hot: Stamkos has points in six straight games (four goals, five assists) and nine of his past 10 (six goals, eight assists). … Johnson has 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in his past 16 games. … Callahan has nine points (four goals, five assists) in his past six. … Nelson scored his eighth goal of the season on Saturday; he had 14 goals in 72 games last season. … Halak has allowed five goals during his four-game winning streak.

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