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Lightning try to inch closer to Southeast-leading Caps

by David Kalan
CAPITALS (27-11-6) AT LIGHTNING (17-17-10)

Last 10 -- Washington 6-4-0; Tampa Bay 6-3-1

Season series -- Washington has won the only meeting so far between the Caps and Lightning this season, a 3-0 shutout on Dec. 7, 2009 at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Big story -- With the Southeast race well in control for the first-place Capitals, Tampa Bay will look to steal two points from its division rival as the Lightning try to climb closer to the East's top eight.

Team Scope:

Capitals -- Washington has bounced back from a three-game losing streak with a three-game winning streak, and after dismantling the Thrashers, 8-1, Saturday in Atlanta, it's hard for the Caps to enter Tuesday any hotter. The romp came on the opener of a three-game road swing that will also take the Capitals to Sunrise, Fla., Wednesday night. With all three opponents on the trip being division foes, it would serve Washington well to come away with a number of points against its pursuers -- but with the Caps currently holding a comfortable 16-point cushion in first, it would seem unlikely that they would fall too close to the pack.

Washington has gotten contributions from all around, with Michal Neuvirth providing the biggest boost, going 5-2-0 with a 2.15 goals-against average in his last seven starts as he fills in for the injured Semyon Varlamov. Neuvirth hasn't done the work himself, however. Mike Knuble has played his part with three goals in the last two games, while Nicklas Backstrom has three goals of his own and an assist over the same stretch. With the always dangerous Alex Ovechkin adding four points of his own in the last two games despite enduring his first two-game scoreless stretch of the year recently, D.C. seems well on its way to a third straight division title.
Lightning --
With Tampa Bay coming back from a three-game road swing, the Lightning will likely revel in the comforts of warm weather, hometown fans and working lights. Tuesday will be the Bolts' first outing since finishing a bizarre two-day stop in New Jersey, where they completed a 4-2 victory Sunday over the East-leading Devils in a game that began Friday night, but was delayed after lighting issues in the arena produced potentially unsafe conditions.

These two half-games bookended a 4-1 loss to the Flyers, and the Lightning had the extremely rare scheduling quirk of playing three straight days as a result. With Tuesday's meeting against the Capitals their fourth time playing in five days, the Bolts could be tired against their division rivals, but with points in five of its last seven games, Tampa Bay has something to show for its exhaustion. Martin St. Louis has led the way with 14 points over a 10-game point streak, while goalie Mike Smith has allowed two goals or fewer in four of the last five games. If Tampa Bay continues to play well, a win against Washington could pull the Lightning within two points of the East's final playoff spot.

Who’s hot --
While second-year center Steven Stamkos leads the Lightning with 23 goals, he has shown himself to be just as good setting up teammates. Stamkos has five assists in the last four games, leaving him just two points shy of the 46 he put up as a rookie with nearly half a season left to play. … For the Caps, Mike Green has continued to add an offensive presence on the blueline with five points in the last four games.

Injury report --
The Lightning are without Todd Fedoruk, who was placed on IR with a knee injury three weeks ago. … Washington should have a full, healthy lineup.

Stat pack --
If the Caps' domination of Atlanta Saturday proved nothing else, it's that they're clearly not a one-man show. Sixteen different players had a point in the eight-goal performance, and surprisingly little influence on the scoresheet came from Ovechkin, whose assist on Knuble's second-period goal was his only point of the night.

Puck drop --
Washington has won 12 straight over Tampa Bay, the second-longest active streak between two teams in the League. In fact, since the Caps' last loss to the Bolts they've gotten two division titles and a new coach. With Ovechkin on fire against Tampa Bay of late -- he has 17 points in his last eight games against the Lightning -- all signs would point to the streak continuing, but Tampa Bay is no stranger to this situation. The Bolts' win over New Jersey Sunday ended a 10-game losing streak to the Devils. It wouldn't be a surprise for the Lightning to strike twice.

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