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Daily Primer: Conference leaders meet in Tampa Bay

by John Kreiser

The two best teams in the NHL will be on the ice Thursday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, though neither the Anaheim Ducks nor the Tampa Bay Lightning will be at their best.

Anaheim's 31 points put them atop the League standings, but the Ducks have played their past two games without captain Ryan Getzlaf. Coach Bruce Boudreau said Wednesday that "it doesn't look very good" for a Getzlaf return Thursday.

Getzlaf is part of a lengthy Ducks injury list that includes forwards Saku Koivu (head) and Jakob Silfverberg (broken hand). The Ducks do hope to have starting goaltender Jonas Hiller available; he's been battling an illness.

The Lightning, the top team in the Eastern Conference, are missing their big gun as well. Steven Stamkos underwent surgery Tuesday to stabilize a fractured tibia in his right leg sustained a day earlier against the Boston Bruins. Tampa Bay lost defensemen Keith Aulie and Sami Salo in the same game.

Here's a complete look at Thursday's action:

Columbus Blue Jackets at Boston Bruins -- A 1-5-1 slide has dropped the Blue Jackets to the bottom of the Metropolitan Division. They were less than two minutes from a 3-2 road victory against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday only to give up the tying goal to Mikhail Grabovski and the overtime winner to Alex Ovechkin. Boston is closing a five-game homestand that has seen the Bruins go 3-0-1 in the first four. With a game Friday at the Ottawa Senators, coach Claude Julien could opt to give Tuukka Rask the night off and start Chad Johnson in goal for the third time this season.

Los Angeles Kings at New York Islanders -- These teams also may be without key players. The Kings will start Ben Scrivens in goal; Jonathan Quick was sent back to Los Angeles on Wednesday after sustaining a lower-body injury in overtime Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres. The Islanders hope their captain, John Tavares, will be able to play after injuring his hip in a 3-1 win against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday. He didn't practice Wednesday. They've already been playing without first-line left forward Thomas Vanek, who's close to returning from an upper-body injury.

Anaheim Ducks at Tampa Bay Lightning -- This is the second of a four-game trip for the Ducks, who saw a 2-0 lead against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday turn into a 3-2 loss. The Lightning return to the Tampa Bay Times Forum after winning two of three on a road trip. The loss came in regulation, the wins in overtime (3-2 at the Detroit Red Wings) and in a shootout (2-1 at the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday). Tampa Bay is 6-0-0 in games decided after regulation, as well as 6-0-0 against Western Conference teams.

Phoenix Coyotes at Chicago Blackhawks -- The Coyotes have won seven of their past eight games, but their level of play apparently isn't good enough for coach Dave Tippett. Captain Shane Doan told Arizona Sports 620 on Wednesday that Tippett "kind of gave it to us" after a 3-2 overtime victory against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, a game in which the Blues outshot Phoenix 39-19, including 15-4 after the second period. The Blackhawks, who are tied for the Central Division lead with the Colorado Avalanche, figure to be well-rested; they've had three days off since beating the Edmonton Oilers 5-4.

Colorado Avalanche at St. Louis Blues -- Colorado is coming off its first road loss of the season, 2-1 against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday. Longtime Avalanche star Milan Hejduk, who wasn't re-signed last summer, told a newspaper in the Czech Republic that he's officially going to retire. St. Louis is playing at Scottrade Center for the 11th time in its 17 games this season. They go on a three-game trip after hosting Carolina on Saturday.

Dallas Stars at Calgary Flames -- The Stars go for a back-to-back sweep in Alberta after shutting out the Edmonton Oilers 3-0 on Wednesday. Kari Lehtonen made Rich Peverley's second-period goal stand up until Tyler Seguin and Antoine Roussel each scored into an empty net. The Flames, now 6-9-3, have hit the skids after a 3-0-2 start, although they did get a point in a 3-2 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday despite being outshot 35-13, including 28-6 in the first 40 minutes.

San Jose Sharks at Vancouver Canucks -- These teams must be tired of seeing each other; it's their fourth meeting in the first six weeks of the season, and they won't meet again unless it's in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. San Jose blew a two-goal lead for the second straight game in Calgary on Tuesday, but this time they won 3-2 in overtime to end a five-game losing streak, Antti Niemi should be back in goal after rookie Alex Stalock played against the Flames. Vancouver begins a six-game homestand that follows a four-game trip through California and Arizona. The Canucks' lone win on the trip was a 4-2 victory at San Jose last Thursday.

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