BLUE JACKETS (21-20-4) AT LIGHTNING (26-15-5)
-– FS-O (HD),SUN (HD)
: Columbus 4-5-1; Tampa Bay 5-5-0.
–- This is the only meeting of the season for Columbus and Tampa Bay. The Jackets took their one matchup last season 3-2 at on March 30, 2010 at Nationwide Arena.
–- While the Jackets have begun scoring in bunches they have struggled to translate those into victories. Columbus will look to do just that in a rare visit to first-place Tampa Bay.
–- Columbus' struggles at the start of this month can easily be attributed to their offensive output. The Jackets managed only three goals in their first three games in 2011, but since then the team has regained its scoring touch, lighting the lamp 14 times in its last four outings. In a stroke of bad luck, however, the Blue Jackets won only one of those four games, and have lost six of seven overall, leaving them 16 points off the pace in the Central of first-place Detroit, which defeated Columbus 6-5 in OT Saturday in its last time out.
Of course, with the Western Conference more congested than a flu sufferer's sinuses, Columbus is a mere six points out of the final playoff spot with just under half a season to play. Captain Rick Nash
has done his part to lead, at the very least, by example with seven points in his last four games, and Jakub Voracek and Fedor Tyutin
have echoed the performance with a combined 10 points in the last four games. To really make a run at a postseason berth, however, the Jackets will need goalie Steve Mason
to find his game. The young netminder has struggled lately, giving up an average of four goals in his last four starts.
–- While Tampa Bay's offensive firepower comes as no surprise when compared with its preseason expecations, that the Bolts are in a dog fight for the Southeast Crown with the heavily-favored Washington Capitals causes at least some pause. The Lightning featured a number of questions in on the back end with muddled goaltending and young defenseman Victor Hedman
still learning the NHL game, but first-year coach Guy Boucher has managed to dodge those obstacles in guiding the team to a remarkable first-half run.
Given that, the Bolts have had their issues of late, losing three of their last four games. Fortunately for the Lightning, however, Washington has had its own struggles and the Southeast co-leaders remained tied in the standings. The wins may start coming soon, however. Steven Stamkos
has four points in the last two games, while Vincent Lecavelier has a four-game point streak. If Dwayne Roloson
, who has lost his last two starts, can provide more consistency in net, the Lightning may start rolling again.
–- Columbus' Grant Clitsome
has played all of three games this season, but in those three games defenseman has two goals and an assist. ... Martin St. Louis
has continued his All-Star campaign for Tampa Bay with five points in his last five games.
–- The Blue Jackets recently lost Ethan Moreau due to an injury to his ribs. Columbus may also be without Rostislav Klesla, who is listed as questionable due to illness. Tampa Bay should have a full lineup with the exception of goaltender Mike Smith, who has been out since late December with a knee injury.
–- Dwayne Roloson
was brought to Tampa Bay to provide stability in net and a chance to win every night for a team looking to make a surprise run this spring, but so far the results have been mixed. In six feast-or-famine starts with the Lightning Roloson has won three starts in which he's given up a combined total of one goal. In his three losses, Roloson has let the puck slip by him a startling 14 times.
–- While both Columbus and Tampa Bay have struggled lately, there is plenty of reason to believe either team could start rolling with its potent offense. Tampa Bay's return to form is expected, but whether or not the Jackets can make a run at the postseason remains to be seen. A road win over the Southeast Division leaders would be a nice feather in their helmets.