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Hot at home, Lightning play host to Kings

by Brian Hunter /

KINGS (11-7-2) at LIGHTNING (7-4-5)

Last 10 -- Los Angeles 5-3-2; Tampa Bay 5-2-3

Season series -- It's the first and only meeting this season between these inter-conference opponents. Tampa Bay paid a visit to the Staples Center last season and beat Los Angeles 3-1 on Jan. 12, with Vincent Lecavalier recording a goal and an assist. Goalie Mike Smith turned aside 29 shots, with Peter Harrold netting the only score against him.

Big story -- A pair of non-playoff teams from a season ago who both rank in the top eight of their respective conferences meet. The Kings find themselves in second place in the Pacific Division and significantly better after 20 games than their 8-9-3 mark of a year ago. Meanwhile, the Lightning reached the 16-game mark in much better shape than last November, when they were 4-10-2 and Barry Melrose didn't survive to coach the 17th game, being replaced behind the bench by Rick Tocchet. Tampa holds down a share of second in the Southeast Division with Atlanta.

Team Scope:

Kings -- It's probably a good thing Los Angeles is playing for the second time in as many nights, because Friday's effort was certainly a clunker. The Kings want to erase the memory of their 7-0 loss in Atlanta as quickly as possible. Jonathan Quick was pulled after allowing three goals on 14 shots and backup Erik Ersberg fared even worse, giving up four more goals on just seven shots.

"It stunk," Ersberg said. "I can't do anything about it now. You can't worry about it too long. I think we are the better team."

Lightning -- Only two NHL teams have made it this far without a regulation loss on home ice: San Jose (6-0-2) and Tampa Bay (5-0-3). The Lightning had to work to keep that streak intact, as they trailed Minnesota 3-1 after two periods on Thursday before Steve Downie scored midway through the third and Ryan Malone forced overtime on a power-play goal with 14.7 seconds left. Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos then scored in the shootout for a 4-3 victory.

"It was a great comeback," said Stamkos, who also had a shorthanded goal in regulation, his 13th of the season. "That was probably the most hard-fought victory of the season, the one that felt the best for sure. To come back, especially on a team like that, was a great team effort."

Who's hot -- Malone has registered a goal and an assist in each of his last two games, and three goals in his last four.

Injury report --
Tampa defensemen Matt Smaby (upper-body injury) and Noah Welch (knee) have yet to play this season, while fellow blueliner Paul Ranger remains away for personal reasons.

Stat pack --
Stamkos is tied for second in the League with his 13 goals. During his rookie season, he didn't score his 13th goal until March 1.

Puck drop -- Los Angeles finished Friday night's game in an ornery mood, amassing 43 penalty minutes, including a couple game misconducts. Will the Kings carry that chip on their shoulders into the matchup with the Lightning?

"When it got to 4-0, everybody was frustrated," Los Angeles coach Terry Murray said. "Nobody wants to let a game get out of control. Nobody wants to get physical, but the score of the game dictates a lot of that."

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