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Bolts go for four in a row against Jackets

by Frank Mentesana
BLUE JACKETS (13-29-6) at LIGHTNING (20-23-4)

: FS-O (HD), SUN (HD)

Last 10: Columbus 3-6-1; Tampa Bay 3-6-1.

Season series: This is the second and final meeting between these clubs this season. In the first matchup on Dec. 17 in Columbus, the Lightning claimed a 3-2 victory behind a goal and an assist from Steven Stamkos and 26 saves from Mathieu Garon.

Big Story: Following a seven-game losing streak to start 2012, the Lightning have matched a season high with three straight wins as they look to finally make the prolonged run the team has been hoping for all season. The schedule is in the Bolts' favor as they begin a five-game homestand against Columbus and will play nine of their next 12 on home ice, where they are 12-7-1. They still have their work cut out for them though, as they sit in 13th in the Eastern Conference with 44 points -- nine points out of a playoff spot. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets have lost six of their last eight and remain in the bottom of the League standings with 32 points.

Team Scope:

Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets began their six-game road trip on Saturday with a solid showing that resulted in a 3-2 shootout loss at Detroit. But they could not build on that effort Monday in Nashville, falling to the Predators 4-1. R.J. Umberger was activated off Injured Reserve Monday morning after missing five games with a concussion, but the Jackets still struggled for offense as they dropped their third straight and their second decision to the Preds in five days.

The only puck Columbus managed to put past the red-hot Pekka Rinne came on a terrific individual effort by Rick Nash that tied the score at 1-1 early in the second. However, Mike Fisher scored his second goal of the game in the final minute of the period, and Nashville added two more in the third to put the game away. The Blue Jackets’ road record fell to a League-worst 5-16-3 and they have now lost 19 of their last 20 games at Bridgestone Arena.

"We've got to be better here," Nash said. "It's a tough place to play. We've struggled over many years. If you want to be a good team, you got to win in every building -- it doesn't matter where it is."

Lightning: With a 2-1 win at Dallas on Friday and a 4-3 victory at Phoenix on Saturday, the Lightning notched consecutive road wins for the first time this season. Stamkos opened the scoring with his League-leading 32nd goal and Teddy Purcell, Martin St. Louis and Steve Downie all followed with tallies to give Tampa Bay a 4-1 lead after two periods. The Bolts put four of their first 16 shots past former teammate Mike Smith in the first meeting since he left for the Coyotes as a free agent.

Contrarily, Dwayne Roloson -- the man Smith backed up last season -- was sharp early, stopping 15 shots in the first period and keeping the ‘Yotes off the board for nearly the first half of the contest. The 42-year-old netminder finished with 33 saves and ended a personal seven-game losing streak with his seventh win of the season.

"I was really happy for Rollie. He had a good game," coach Guy Boucher said. "Let's not kid ourselves. On a back-to-back, you need your goalie to play great because it's just an unfair fight. He was great, and he needed a game to turn his way. Tonight we gave him enough goals, but he had to fight through because everything was going against us at the end."

With just over five minutes remaining in the third, it looked like Roloson might have to leave the game after Martin Hanzal inadvertently knocked him to the ice, where he laid motionless for approximately 30 seconds.

"I don't know what happened there to be honest," said Roloson, who was checked by the trainer and took a couple of minutes to recover before ultimately closing out the victory. "I had my head in the corner looking for the puck and the next thing I knew I was face down on the ice. All it took was a few vertebrae to snap back in place and I was able to finish the game."

Who's Hot: Columbus center Antoine Vermette has points in six of his last seven, with 1 goal and 5 assists in that span. … The "Big Three" continue to light up the scoresheet for Tampa Bay. Stamkos has 12 goals in the last 13 games, while St. Louis and captain Vincent Lecavalier each have five-game point-streaks.

Injury Report: Each team has been hit hard with the injury bug this season. For Columbus, James Wisniewski (ankle), Jeff Carter (shoulder), Mark Letestu (hand) and Kristian Huselius (groin) are all on Injured Reserve. In addition, Nikita Nikitin (knee) is sidelined indefinitely, while Radek Martinek (post-concussion symptoms) is out for the remainder of the season. … Tampa Bay lost yet another player to injury on Monday despite not even having a game. Dana Tyrell left Monday's practice early with what is believed to be a knee injury, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Boucher said that Tyrell will not play on Tuesday, along with Tom Pyatt (leg) and Ryan Malone, who left Saturday's win over Phoenix with an upper-body injury. Ryan Shannon (knee), Marc-Andre Bergeron (upper body), Adam Hall (forearm), J.T. Wyman (lacerated right pinky finger) and Victor Hedman (concussion) all remain sidelined.

Stat Pack: Including Tuesday's matchup with the Bolts, the Blue Jackets have two more chances in January to post their fourth regulation win of the month -- which would be their highest number of regulation wins in any month this season (two in October, three in November, one in December). … Despite winning three in a row, the Lightning still have the worst goals-against average (3.40) in the League.

Puck Drop: "The hockey gods are whipping us left and right," Boucher told the Tampa Bay Times, referring to the Bolts' rash of injuries this season. "I can't even tell you which one is upper body, lower body, the back of the body, the top of the head, we've got them all. To me, it's just a blur right now. It's the most injuries we've had since I've been here, by far, and it's very taxing. We've answered with a lot of character, lately. We want to show that we want to survive."

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