LIGHTNING (17-18-3) at SENATORS (20-15-5)
TV: SUN, SNET-East, TVA
Last 10: Tampa Bay 5-4-1; Ottawa 7-2-1.
Season Series: This is the second of four meetings this season between two franchises that entered the League together in 1992. In their last meeting on Dec. 5, Zack Smith scored twice to pace a 4-2 Ottawa win. The teams split their four meetings last season.
Big Story: The Lightning got off to a slow start this season while Ottawa stormed out of the gate, but both ended 2011 on a strong note to propel themselves into the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Bolts went 3-0-1 to end 2011 before losing in Toronto on Tuesday night while Ottawa has won three in a row and is 6-1-1 in its last eight games.
Lightning: After seeing its offense run hot and cold for much of the season, Tampa Bay closed out 2011 with three straight wins in which the Lightning scored a combined 14 goals. But that momentum failed to continue into the new year as the Lightning kicked off a three-game Canadian road trip Tuesday night in Toronto.
Against the Maple Leafs, Vincent Lecavalier opened the scoring just 58 seconds into the game. The meeting was a back-and-forth affair as Pavel Kubina's second-period goal tied things at 3-3. But Darryl Boyce replied for the Leafs just 17 seconds after Kubina's equalizer, inspiring Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher to pull starting goaltender Mathieu Garon in favor of Dwayne Roloson. The switch didn't do much good, as the Leafs ran off three more unanswered goals. Toronto's 7-3 win halted the Bolts' three-game win streak and marked the second time in two weeks that the team allowed the opposition to net seven goals.
"I blame myself a bit because I wanted to change (Garon) the goal before and I didn't and I didn't follow my feeling and it wasn't because he was bad on the fourth goal," Boucher said. "It's just I felt it might have been the moment to do so and I didn't do so."
Senators: Coming off a 6-2 home loss to Montreal that was their most lopsided in over two months, the Senators have won three in a row, all in extra time. It started with a 4-3 overtime win over Calgary before the Sens topped the Sabres 3-2 in a shootout Saturday night. They took that streak into the new year when they hosted the Devils on Monday.
Ottawa trailed the Devils 2-0 entering the third period, but as they've done all season, the Senators came alive in the final stanza. Jason Spezza scored early in the third before Erik Condra tied the game with a shorthanded goal 12 minutes later. From there, Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson notched the overtime winner for the second time in three games. Alfredsson's 400th career goal helped Ottawa top the Flames on Friday; he got No. 401 to beat New Jersey. Both goals came from almost identical spots in the left circle.
"It's fun to win at home and come back the way we did," Alfredsson said. "I think it builds character - finding ways to win. We've done a good job. Every night's a battle, you've just got to come in and try to steal as many points as you can and we've been doing that pretty well lately."
Who's Hot: Steven Stamkos has scored six times for the Lightning during a four-game goal-scoring streak that has carried him into the League lead with 27. Martin St. Louis is enjoying an eight-game point streak, including nine points in six games since returning from injury. … For the Senators, defenseman Erik Karlsson has four points in his last three games.
Injury Report: Lightning defenseman Mattias Ohlund remains on IR following knee surgery while Ryan Shannon (lower body), Victor Hedman (concussion), and Ryan Malone (lower body) are also out. … The Senators' defense will be depleted Thursday. Chris Phillips is expected to sit out with a mild concussion sustained on Monday night. Forwards Peter Regin (shoulder) and Jesse Winchester (concussion) are on IR. The Senators hope defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who missed the last two games with a head injury, will be ready to go.
Stat Pack: Alfredsson isn't the only player in this game who recently reached a major scoring milestone. St. Louis recorded the 500th assist of his career when he set up Stamkos' third goal of the game against Carolina on Saturday. He recorded assist No. 501 in Toronto.
Puck Drop: If Phillips misses the game against the Lightning, as he is expected to, it will be a rare occurrence. The Senators' ironman has missed just two games since the start of the 2006-07 season.