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Blues-Lightning Preview @NHLdotcom
Blues-Lightning Preview

GAME: St. Louis Blues (5-16-3) at Tampa Bay Lightning (15-10-3).

TIME: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are starting to play like defending Stanley Cup champions.

They'll shoot for their ninth victory in 11 games when they host the league-worst St. Louis.

Tampa Bay had lost a season-high six in a row before putting together its current 8-1-1 run.

Goaltender John Grahame earned his seventh straight win Friday, making 34 saves to lead the Lightning to a 3-2 shootout win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

"Obviously (Grahame) was the biggest key," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "Johnny is trying to stay within himself, and keep the focus that he has right now."

Grahame has stepped in nicely after Stanley Cup-winning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin signed with Chicago this past offseason. During his seven-game winning streak, Grahame appeared in another game as the Devils chased backup Sean Burke with six goals through a period and a half. In his last eight appearances, Grahame has made 174 saves for a 1.95 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage.

Martin St. Louis is riding a four-game points streak for the Lightning. The Art Ross Trophy winner from 2003-04 as the league's top scorer has 10 goals and 22 points in 26 games this season. He has not had a multi-goal game after recording eight last season.

The Blues have won three of their last 18 games, and are coming off Tuesday's 6-3 loss to the New York Islanders.

"It's just been a frustrating year," said Blues left wing Keith Tkachuk, who had a goal and an assist. "It's been a tough year and we've just got to fight through it."

Through 24 games, the Blues have scored the second-fewest goals in the league with 65 while allowing 96. Making matters worse, leading scorer Petr Cajanek was placed on injured reserve due to a groin strain and missed his first game of the season against the Islanders. He had 16 assists and 18 points.

STANDINGS (through Dec. 7): Blues - 13 points, 5th place, 27 PB, Central Division. Lightning - 33 points, 2nd place, 3 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Blues - Dean McAmmond, 9 goals; Cajanek, 16 assists and 18 points; Jamal Mayers, 45 PIM. Lightning - Vaclav Prospal and Fredrik Modin, 13 goals; Prospal and Brad Richards, 20 assists; Prospal, 33 points; Pavel Kubina, 48 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 7): Blues - Power play: 15.2 percent (26 for 171), 24th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.8 percent (123 for 154), 24th. Lightning - Power play: 14.2 percent (24 for 169), 28th. Penalty killing: 84.7 percent (117 for 138), 8th.

GOALTENDERS: Blues - Patrick Lalime (3-10-3, 0 SO, 3.90 GAA); Curtis Sanford (2-4-0, 1, 3.35). Lightning - Grahame (12-8-1, 1, 2.64); Burke (3-1-2, 0, 2.77).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Blues, 1-0-1.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 19, 2004; Blues, 4-3 OT. At St. Louis, Doug Weight scored 1:06 into overtime and Dallas Drake had three assists for the Blues.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Blues - 2-6-2 on the road; Lightning - 8-5-1 at home.

Associated Press

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