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Lightning try to extend streak, end Penguins' mastery

by Brian Hunter

LIGHTNING (39-24-7) at PENGUINS (45-19-5)


Last 10: Tampa Bay 5-3-2; Pittsburgh 5-4-1

Season series: This is the third and final game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Lightning will be looking to return the favor after the Penguins won twice at Tampa Bay Times Forum earlier this season. Sidney Crosby has torched the Lightning to the tune of two goals and seven points.

Big story: Tampa Bay hit the skids just as it was getting Steven Stamkos back from injury, but the Lightning have recovered to win five in a row and Stamkos is beginning to hit his stride. They lead the Montreal Canadiens by two points with a game in hand for second place in the Atlantic Division and home ice in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Team Scope:

Lightning: This is the finale of a three-game road trip for Tampa Bay, which plays eight of its final 11 on home ice. The Lightning are averaging 4.4 goals per game during their winnig streak. Stamkos has five goals and two assists, including a hat trick Wednesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He was held off the score sheet Thursday, but the balanced Lightning attack still had enough in it for a 5-4 win against an Ottawa Senators team desperately trying to stay in the postseason picture. Teddy Purcell ended a lengthy drought with two goals, Valtteri Filppula tied a career high with his 23rd of the season, defenseman Eric Brewer scored his first in more than a year and Ryan Callahan's power-play goal held up as the winner.

"It's reassuring," Purcell said in the Tampa Bay Times. "We're separating ourselves from other teams in our division. It's a good sign. We're finding ways to win."

Penguins: In going 1-2-1 during its past four games, Pittsburgh has lost ground to the Boston Bruins in the race for the Eastern Conference's top seed. The Penguins start a four-game homestand that will also feature some top competition from the West in the St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings.

"They're doing what we want to get doing," center Brandon Sutter said of the Bruins in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We want to start winning some games to get that first spot back."

Playing the Lightning might be a good place to start. The Penguins have won the past eight games between the clubs dating back to the 2011-12 season. Pittsburgh has outscored Tampa Bay 41-19 during the streak.

Who's hot: Filppula has three goals and eight assists during a seven-game point streak for the Lightning. Forward Tyler Johnson has consecutive multipoint games (one goal, three assists). … Penguins forward Lee Stempniak has goals in back-to-back games and four points over that span. Forward Chris Kunitz has three goals and two assists over the past four games.

Injury report: The Lightning report no new injuries. ... Pittsburgh forward Joe Vitale (upper body) won't play this weekend. Goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot), defensemen Kris Letang (stroke) and Paul Martin (hand) and forwards Pascal Dupuis (knee) and Chris Conner (hand) are also out. Letang has been practicing. Forward Beau Bennett (wrist) is ready to start a conditioning assignment with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.

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