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Latest Lightning challenge -- East-best Rangers

by Lonnie Herman
TAMPA, Fla. -- Six points out of a playoff spot with 19 games remaining, the Tampa Bay Lightning have battled a variety of plagues as they try to stay in the race.

There have been injuries to mainstays like Vincent Lecavalier, Victor Hedman and Marc-Andre Bergeron; trades with took three popular players out of the locker room; and most recently a flu bug which forced the team to use six AHL call-ups for Tuesday's game against Montreal. However, through all that, the Lightning have won five of their last seven games, including four straight at home.

Their next challenge arrives Friday as the New York Rangers visit the Tampa Bay Times Forum for the fourth and final meeting this season (7:30 p.m., NHLN-US).

While the Rangers provide one type of challenge, it appears another one seems to have moved on.

"I think everyone is healthy," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said regarding the flu virus. "I'm afraid to say for certain because there is still half-a-day left until we play."

Keith Aulie, acquired from Toronto at the trade deadline, will make his Lightning debut Friday. He was one of three blueliners -- along with Mike Commodore and Brian Lee -- the team acquired Monday. Commodore and Lee made their debuts with the team in Tuesday's win against Montreal.

"I thought Commodore and Lee played great last game," Boucher said. "Lee had a few solid body checks; Commodore, too. That was really welcome. We have been a smaller, skill-type of defensive team concerning our defensive corps, and it was good to see size and aggressiveness. They are welcome on our team; they are really good additions."

Here's what the rest of the Lightning lineup could look like tonight:

Teddy Purcell - Steven Stamkos - Martin St. Louis
Ryan Malone - Adam Hall - Tim Wallace
Tom Pyatt - Nate Thompson - JT Wyman
Brandon Segal - Brett Connolly

Eric Brewer - Brett Clark
Mike Commodore - Brian Lee
Bruno Gervais - Brendan Mikkelson
Keith Aulie

Mathieu Garon will start in goal, with Dwayne Roloson the backup.
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