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Lightning go for season sweep of slumping Isles

by John Kreiser

LIGHTNING (26-22-11) at ISLANDERS (24-28-8)

Last 10 -- Tampa Bay 7-2-1; New York 2-8-0

Season series -- The Lightning come to Long Island looking for a four-game sweep. They won both meetings in Tampa and were 4-2 winners at the Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 21. In all, the Bolts have outscored the Isles 13-4 in the three wins.

Big story -- The Lightning begin a two-game weekend tour of New York (they visit the Rangers on Sunday) essentially tied with Boston for the final playoff berth in the East. They're coming off a 5-4 home loss to the Bruins in which they spotted Boston a 5-0 lead and nearly forced overtime. The four goals would be a bonanza for the Isles, who are 1-8-0 in their last nine and have scored more than two goals just once (a 4-3 shootout win over Nashville on Tuesday) since Jan. 18.

Team Scope:

Lightning -- Thursday's loss to Boston was a rare home defeat for the Bolts, whose 17-7-6 mark at the St. Pete Times Forum is one of the best home records in the NHL. After going down 5-0, they made it close on two goals each by Martin St. Louis and Steve Downie, but came up one short.

The big culprit: a four-goal first period in which they were bombarded for 21 shots.

"The first seven minutes, I thought we were playing well," coach Rick Tocchet said. "Then it just kind of snowballed. We got all discombobulated."

Islanders -- The Isles have dropped eight points out of the last playoff berth in the East and are only two points ahead of 14th-place Carolina. That's largely because of an inability to put the puck in the net -- New York has scored just 13 goals while going 1-8-0 in its last nine. That includes one goal on 38 shots in their most recent loss, a 3-1 defeat at Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

"It's a shame because we had a lot of steam today and were playing well and generating a lot and it seems it's a wasted effort again," captain Doug Weight said.

Who's hot -- St. Louis, who has 22 goals and a team-leading 69 points, has 9 goals and 4 assists during an eight-game points streak -- including 2 goals and an assist in each of the last two games. 2008 No. 1 overall pick Steven Stamkos is on a career-high 11-game point streak, scoring 8 goals and adding 11 assists, including three on Thursday.

Injury report -- Tampa Bay placed defenseman David Hale (lower body) on IR this week. … Isles forward Tim Jackman (broken orbital bone) has been practicing and is about ready to return, though New York may wait until after the Olympic break to bring him back. Defenseman Jack Hillen (broken jaw) and forward Josh Bailey (upper body) won't be back until play resumes after the Winter Games.

Stat pack -- A victory would give the Lightning their third sweep of the Islanders in the past five seasons. … The Islanders have scored two goals or fewer in nine of their last 10 games, and are next-to-last in the League with an average of 2.40 goals per game.

Puck drop -- Neither the Lightning nor the Islanders made any moves before the Olympic roster freeze. Given the way they're not scoring, the Isles will need superb goaltending to slow down the Lightning, who have a lot more offensive skill than they do and are playing a lot better. If New York has any ambitions of making the playoffs, it needs to win this game.

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