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Conference leaders Lightning, Predators face off

by Robby Stanley

LIGHTNING (34-16-5) at PREDATORS (35-12-6)


NASHVILLE -- The Nashville Predators will host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday at Bridgestone Arena in a game between two of the top teams in the NHL.

Tampa Bay has the best offense in the League, averaging 3.22 goals per game. Young, dynamic forwards like Tyler Johnson and Steven Stamkos have been leading the way for Tampa Bay all season.

"I think the style of play helps," Stamkos said. "These guys, a lot of them have come up together through the minors and have played with each other in the past so I think that helps with the comfort level and the chemistry when you get to this level. We have a good team so things are going to go well. We have the depth this year that I don't think we've ever had since I've been in this organization and it's showing."

The Lightning defeated another Western Conference powerhouse Sunday with a 5-3 win against the Anaheim Ducks. They got started with a three-goal first period and then hung on for the victory. They expect a difficult game against the Predators.

"I don't think we can expect to get out 3-0 in the first," Stamkos said. "We're expecting a tight game. I think we've done a good job of playing well in tight games and we're comfortable playing those types of styles. It should be a good challenge for us tonight."

Tampa Bay defenseman Jason Garrison will return to the lineup after missing the previous two games because of a lower-body injury.

Nashville is the only team in the League that is in the top five in goals-for and goals-against per game. That balance has been a big reason for its success.

"I think we work as a five-man group every time," Predators defenseman Roman Josi said. "In the offensive zone there's five guys involved. In the defensive zone there's five guys involved. It's not just the defense and the forwards doing their own thing. We always work as a five-man unit and I think that's been one of the keys."

Tampa Bay's skilled forwards will present a challenge for Nashville's defense corps. Nashville will try to put a lot of pressure on them and take away easy zone entries.

"Take their time and space away," Josi said. "They've obviously got a lot of guys that can put the puck in the net and they've got a lot of speed and skill. We've got to take their time and space away and make it tough on them. Forecheck them hard right from the beginning so they can't make any plays through the neutral zone."

Nashville forward Colin Wilson sustained an upper-body injury in a 3-2 win against the New York Rangers on Saturday and said he will be a game-time decision against Tampa Bay. Wilson participated in the morning skate and was on a line with Mike Fisher and James Neal.

Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm sustained an upper-body injury in a 3-2 shootout win against the Florida Panthers on Sunday. Defenseman Anthony Bitetto was recalled from the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League and will play in his second NHL game.

"He's one of [Milwaukee's] steadiest [defensemen] down there," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "He brings, I think, a good two-way play. He brings an element of toughness, he moves the puck, he skates good. We're in need with our defensemen being short right now to bring these guys up and have them contribute in the lineup."

Here are the projected lineups:


Valtteri Filppula - Steven Stamkos - Ryan Callahan

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Cedric Paquette - Jonathan Drouin

Brenden Morrow - Brian Boyle - Brett Connolly

Victor Hedman - Andrej Sustr

Anton Stralman - Mark Barberio

Luke Witkowski - Jason Garrison

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Ben Bishop

Scratched: J.T. Brown, Nikita Nesterov

Injured: Radko Gudas (knee surgery), Matthew Carle (abdominal surgery)


Filip Forsberg - Mike Ribeiro - Craig Smith

Colin Wilson - Mike Fisher - James Neal

Matt Cullen - Calle Jarnkrok - Gabriel Bourque

Eric Nystrom - Paul Gaustad - Taylor Beck

Roman Josi - Shea Weber

Anton Volchenkov - Seth Jones

Anthony Bitetto - Victor Bartley

Pekka Rinne

Carter Hutton

Scratched: Viktor Stalberg, Olli Jokinen

Injured: Ryan Ellis (lower body), Colin Wilson (upper body), Mattias Ekholm (upper body)

Status report: Paquette left the Tampa Bay morning skate early and will be a game-time decision. … Vasilevskiy will start for the Lightning. … Nashville recalled Stalberg and Bitetto from Milwaukee on Tuesday. … Rinne was the first goalie off of the ice after morning skate and is expected to start.

Who's hot: Kucherov has goals in three straight games and also has an assist in that span. … Forsberg has one goal and five assists during his five-game point streak.

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