DUCKS (24-23-7) at LIGHTNING (22-20-10)
Anaheim 6-4-0; Tampa Bay 6-4-0
This is the second and final game between the inter-conference rivals. Anaheim blew a three-goal lead but claimed a 4-3 win at Honda Center on Nov. 19 as defenseman Scott Niedermayer scored 52 seconds into overtime. The Ducks captain is the all-time leader for OT goals by a defenseman.
That earlier game highlighted the fact that nothing has come easy for either team this season. Anaheim was in full control on goals by Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf
and Bobby Ryan
, but took its foot of the gas pedal and almost let a valuable point slip away on home ice. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, earned a point the hard way by rallying on goals by Jeff Halpern, Steven Stamkos
and Ryan Malone
With two stops remaining on a six-game road trip, Anaheim is in dire need of a victory. The Ducks have lost three of four so far, scoring just one goal in each of the losses. The hope is that Selanne may be able to play in a game sooner rather than later, as he recovers from a broken jaw suffered Jan. 13 against Boston. He skated on Thursday.
"Obviously, I have to get my conditioning back, my skating conditioning," Selanne said. "I don't know if my jaw is ready, either. Still, when I do something quick, it's sore.
"One step at a time."
Following a four-game stretch that saw Tampa Bay swept by rival Florida in a home-and-home and routed by six goals by the New York Rangers, the Lightning returned home and have put together a three-game winning streak. It started with a pair of extra-time wins, 3-2 over Toronto in overtime and 2-1 over Atlanta in a shootout, then continued with a 3-0 win over Montreal on Wednesday. This is the finale of their four-game homestand.
"I think it was important for us to play this style and to play the way we played today against a team that's ahead of us in the standings," coach Rick Tocchet said. "We all talk about the playoffs, so the reaction of the players is a very encouraging thing for us. They answered the bell tonight with the way they played. Certain individuals rose to the occasion."
As his first appearance in the Olympics approaches, Ryan has four goals in his last six games for Anaheim. … Tampa goalie Antero Niittymaki has won his last three starts, allowing just three goals total in that stretch. Vincent Lecavalier
is now averaging a point per game this season, with eight goals and 18 assists over his last 20 games. Stamkos has three goals and three assists during a four-game points streak.
In addition to Selanne, the Ducks are without forward Joffrey Lupul, who had back surgery in December. … Lightning forward Stephane Veilleux is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
There aren't a lot of pretty plus-minus ratings on Anaheim, which makes journeyman defenseman Sheldon Brookbank
and veteran forward Saku Koivu
stand out. Brookbank, an unsung member of the team's blue line, leads the team with a plus-10 while Koivu follows at plus-8 in his first season with the Ducks.
An injury to Mike Smith opened the door for Niittymaki to reclaim the No. 1 job and he's run with it. Tocchet was particularly pleased with how the team played in front of him down the stretch of the Montreal game.
"The third period was an enjoyable one for the coaches," he said. "The guys all did the right things. They played for each other and they played for Niitty. We didn't cheat, we didn't try to make it 4-0, but you always want to try and score, and we did it the right way. It was nice to see the consistency from the guys. Hopefully that's a corner we can turn."