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Lightning, Canadiens both desperate for points

by Magalie Lafreni?re

CANADIENS (25-24-5) at LIGHTNING (21-20-10)

Last 10 -- Montreal 4-4-2; Tampa Bay 5-5-0

Season series -- This is the third of four meetings between the two teams. Tampa won 3-1 on Nov. 7 in Montreal, and the Canadiens took the second game 2-1 in overtime on Dec. 30 at the St. Pete Times Forum, with Tomas Plekanec scoring the game-winner. Brian Gionta scored in both games, while Martin St. Louis had a point in each match.

Big story -- With the Habs' loss to the Panthers on Tuesday, they dropped from eighth to ninth place in the Eastern Conference. A win or a loss in overtime or in a shootout would have had them in sixth. Needless to say it's a tight race in the East, with the Flyers with 55 points in sixth and the Lightning in 13th with 52 points.

Team Scope:

Canadiens -- After a big 6-0 win over the Rangers on Saturday, the Canadiens ran into some trouble in South Florida with a 2-1 loss to the Panthers. Plekanec scored for Montreal at the end of the second period, but Florida's Shawn Matthias tied it on a penalty shot early in the third and scored with 7:01 left for the win. The Canadiens were outshot 29-17 and managed only four shots in the second period against a Florida squad without Nathan Horton or David Booth.

"We got outworked tonight, they were more determined than us, and we had some very poor execution," coach Jacques Martin said. "You're winning the hockey game 1-0 in the third period, and a bad turnover in the offensive zone, that's not acceptable."

Lightning -- After a disappointing 8-2 loss in New York last Tuesday, the Lightning have rebounded with two wins, although both wins required extra time. After a 3-2 overtime win last Thursday, the Bolts grabbed a 2-1 shootout win over Atlanta on Saturday. Steven Stamkos scored a power-play goal in the first period, while Jeff Halpern finally solved the Thrashers in the fifth round of the shootout. With Tampa being outshot 38-26, goaltender Antero Niittymaki was instrumental in the victory with 37 saves through regulation and OT and stopping all five of Atlanta's shootout attempts.

"The wins are all big. There are 30 games left and I think it's crunch time," coach Rick Tocchet said. "We've got to put a string together to get to the next dance. This was a game where we kind of stole two points, but Niittymaki was great for us and it was an excellent goal by Halpy [Jeff Halpern]. A great, great goal by him to win the game for us."

Who's hot -- Vincent Lecavalier's six-game points streak ended Saturday, but the center had 10 points in that span. Bolts defenseman Kurtis Foster has three points in his last four games, while Stamkos has had two goals and three assists in his last three games. … Plekanec has a goal in his last two games, while Mike Cammalleri is riding a five-game point streak, during which he has with eight points.

Injury report -- Habs defenseman Paul Mara has missed the Canadiens' last two games with an upper-body injury and is questionable for Wednesday, while left wing Andrei Kostitsyn (left knee surgery) won't return until after the Olympics. … Lightning goalie Mike Smith participated in full-practice this week and is likely to at least be on the bench against the Canadiens, while left wing Stephane Veilleux (lower-body) practiced with the team on Tuesday, but is still questionable for Wednesday.

Stat pack -- In back-to-back game this season, Montreal has a record of 5-4-1 in the second game.

Puck drop -- Things may no go any better for the Canadiens in Tampa Bay than they did in South Florida. In addition to the challenge of playing back-to back games, they face a Lightning team with star French-Canadiens who tend to rise to the occasion against Montreal.

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