The Vancouver Canucks' improved offense endured a rare off night to conclude a road trip. The start of a homestand brings them a good chance to rebound.
At the top of a crowded chase for the Western Conference's final four playoff spots, Vancouver looks to extend its home dominance of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night and take advantage of their struggling defense.
The playoff hopes of the Canucks (30-22-8) seemed to dwindle after a season-high, eight-game losing streak to end January, but they bounced back to win eight of their first nine this month while scoring 4.0 goals per game to reach fifth place in the West.
However, they're among six teams within three points of each other in the race for the conference's final four postseason berths.
Vancouver missed an opportunity for more of a cushion Tuesday, failing to capitalize on a 34-17 shots advantage and six power-play chances in a 3-0 loss at Montreal. Despite outshooting the Canadiens 13-3 in the final period, the Canucks couldn't avoid their first shutout in 24 games and had a four-game win streak snapped in the finale of their four-game road trip.
"We took a lot of shots, and they weren't bad shots," center Henrik Sedin told the team's official Web site. "We had traffic, and a couple of them were bouncing on the goal line."
If history is an indication, the Canucks could bounce back against the Lightning, who are 0-7-1 with two ties all-time in Vancouver while giving up 45 goals.
While the Canucks have scored 15 goals in winning all three of their home games this month, the Lightning have lost six in a row on the road while surrendering an average of 4.3 goals.
Tampa Bay (20-29-12) has given up at least three goals in eight straight games overall and has lost 10 of 13.
That might be good news for a Vancouver team which could be missing Pavol Demitra, who fractured his finger in Tuesday's game. He's third on the team with 16 goals.
Injuries have kept Tampa Bay goalies Mike Smith (concussion) and Olaf Kolzig (upper body) out of the lineup, and the Lightning have struggled to find a suitable replacement. Karri Ramo, who has started consecutive games and four of the last five, is 1-3-1 with a 3.65 goals-against average this month, and Mike McKenna has allowed 11 goals in his last three starts.
Ramo had to face 45 shots Tuesday night in a 5-3 loss at Edmonton.
"I felt a little bit off there at the start. It was my fault," said Ramo, whose team has allowed 40-plus shots in five straight contests. "I need to take care of myself and be ready to play."
In 15 seasons, the Canucks have won 14 of the 20 meetings but had a three-game win streak over Tampa Bay snapped in the previous matchup - a 4-3 road loss last season.
Vancouver's Daniel Sedin has a point in all six career meetings with the Lightning. He had a four-game point streak snapped Tuesday but leads the team with 25 goals and 59 points.