LIGHTNING (45-30-5) at DEVILS (37-35-8)
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NEWARK, N.J. -- Right wing Jonathan Drouin will return to the lineup for the Tampa Bay Lightning against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on Thursday.
Drouin, who was recalled from Syracuse of the American Hockey League, will play in his first game for the Lightning since Dec. 30.
Drouin, 21, made headlines on Jan. 20 when he decided to walk out on Syracuse after Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman wouldn't honor his trade request. Yzerman, who suspended Drouin without pay that day, said all along that the No. 3 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft needed to play more and the only way that was possible was in the AHL.
Yzerman lifted the suspension on March 7 after Drouin informed him he wanted another chance.
"I was happy with my play in Syracuse; just excited to get back to play hockey," Drouin said. "I was out for a while but getting back that first game, that first day was exciting."
The recent rash of injuries that have hit the Lightning likely fast-tracked Drouin's promotion as well. In 19 games with Tampa Bay, Drouin has two goals and eight points. He was skating on a line with center Vladislav Namestnikov and left wing Alex Killorn during the morning skate. He was also receiving time on the power-play unit.
Drouin was excited when Yzerman called to inform him he would be in the lineup against the Devils.
"I got the call after practice [in Syracuse] Wednesday," Drouin said. "The conversation went really well; we're on good terms. There's no bad blood between us and that also goes for the coaching staff here and [in Syracuse]."
Drouin has nine goals in his past nine games in Syracuse, and 11 goals and 13 points in 17 games this season. He's tied for fifth on the Crunch with five power-play goals.
"I'm here to help the team, play my game and play the way I've been playing in Syracuse," Drouin said. "I'm not going to change much and just hopefully help the guys secure home ice."
The Lightning can clinch second place in the Atlantic Division and home ice in the Eastern Conference First Round with a win against the Devils. The Lighting need any combination of two points over their final two games of the regular season to assure themselves home-ice advantage against either the Detroit Red Wings or Boston Bruins.
"We're fighting for our lives right now," Lighting coach Jon Cooper said. "I know we're in the playoffs but now the next step is getting home-ice advantage and we got to win another game to do that. [Drouin] is another threat now and he makes us deeper in that scoring department."
More than anything, a win would go a long way to provide some needed confidence for a team that will be without four core players: forwards Steven Stamkos (blood clot) and Ryan Callahan (lower body), and defensemen Anton Stralman (fractured fibula) and Victor Hedman (upper body).
Stamkos has missed the past three games and will be out at least a month. Stralman was injured on March 25 and will miss at least the first round of the playoffs.
Tampa Bay has lost three of its past four games, scoring two or fewer goals in those three losses. The Lightning are 34-3-3 when scoring at least three goals. They are 0-2-0 on a four-game road trip to end the regular season. They play at the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop has stopped 90 of 94 shots with two shutouts and has won his past four against the Devils.
Here are the projected lineups:
Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Vladislav Namestnikov - Jonathan Drouin
Cedric Paquette - Valtteri Filppula - J.T. Brown
Erik Condra - Brian Boyle - Mike Blunden
Jason Garrison - Andrej Sustr
Matthew Carle - Nikita Nesterov
Matt Taormina - Braydon Coburn
Injured: Steven Stamkos (blood clot/vascular surgery); Anton Stralman (fractured fibula), Victor Hedman (upper body), Ryan Callahan (lower body)
Scratched: Jonathan Marchessault
Tyler Kennedy - Adam Henrique - Devante Smith-Pelly
Reid Boucher - Travis Zajac - Kyle Palmieri
Patrik Elias - Jacob Josefson - Mike Sislo
Sergey Kalinin - Stephen Gionta - Blake Pietila
Andy Greene - Adam Larsson
David Schlemko - Damon Severson
John Moore - Vojtech Mozik
Injured: Jon Merrill (shoulder), Mike Cammalleri (inflamed tendon right hand), Jordin Tootoo (right wrist surgery), Jiri Tlusty (right wrist surgery)
Scratched: Tuomo Ruutu, Bobby Farnham, David Warsofsky, Joseph Blandisi
Status report: Callahan didn't practice Thursday and is out; he is doubtful against the Canadiens. … Hedman is out against the Devils, but hopeful to return Saturday at Montreal. He took a hit from New York Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey in the third period of a loss in Brooklyn on Monday. … Taormina was recalled from Syracuse and paired with Coburn at practice. Defenseman Slater Koekkoek was reassigned to Syracuse. … Devils coach John Hynes said he might make a few game-time decisions on the forward line after pregame warmups. … Kinkaid will start and Elias will play his second straight game after missing 46 with a knee injury. … Schneider will start against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
Who's hot: Kucherov has five goals and 10 points in the past eight games. … Palmieri has established NHL career highs with 29 goals and 55 points.