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MacKinnon, Avalanche set to host Lightning

by Mike Battaglino

LIGHTNING (34-21-5) at AVALANCHE (38-17-5)


Last 10: Tampa Bay 5-5-0; Colorado 6-4-0

Season series: The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Colorado Avalanche 5-2 on Jan. 25. Lightning forward Tyler Johnson scored a hat trick against Avalanche goaltender Sami Aittokallio, who was pulled after two periods in his only NHL game of the season.

Big story: Tampa Bay captain Martin St. Louis has responded to rumors about his future with the team by scoring two goals in consecutive games, including a 4-2 win at the Dallas Stars on Saturday.

"The one thing about Marty is, he's a pro," Lightning coach Jon Cooper told Sun Sports. "So whatever's swirling around for the other 23 hours in the day, the 60-minute game he plays ... Marty, this isn't his first rodeo. I don't know if he's probably been in controversies like this before, but as soon as we step on the ice and that whistle blows, that kid comes to play. And that's what you want in a player.

"Through all this speculation of him being moved or asking [for] a trade, that doesn't come into one spot in our locker room, of how we're preparing to win a hockey game. It's all business, and we needed four goals to win tonight and he had two of 'em. You need that from one of your go-to guys, and it's impressive that, whatever happens, he pushes it aside and plays the game. And you want to have guys like that."

Team Scope:

Lightning: Goalie Ben Bishop made 39 saves Saturday afternoon, and though the plan heading into the weekend was for him to play each game, Cooper would not hold to that afterward.

"We'll see tomorrow," the coach said. "I know it's a back-to-backer, but we have some time, so we'll see how he is in the morning."

If Bishop does not play, it could be the NHL debut for Kristers Gudlevskis, who made 55 saves for Latvia in a 2-1 loss to Canada in the quarterfinals at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

"It was a great experience for me as a goalie and hopefully it will give me a lot more confidence in games," the 21-year-old told the Lightning website. "The game against Canada was like an NHL game, I felt it was a really exciting moment all game long."

Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon, with two assists in a 4-2 win against the Phoenix Coyotes on Friday, has the first 10-game point streak by an NHL rookie since Jonathan Toews had one for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007.

With Alex Tanguay out for the season after hip surgery, MacKinnon has returned to wing on a line with Gabriel Landeskog and Paul Stastny.

"The way Paulie likes to play center, he likes to have guys moving in the neutral zone, so half the time I'm circling in the middle, playing like a centerman," MacKinnon told the Denver Post. "Paulie is so good defensively down low and so good on faceoffs, which is so important. ... With me and Landy on the wings, I think we bring different elements and it makes a pretty good line."

Landeskog has 15 points in his past 11 games, and Stastny has 19 in 16 games. Stastny holds the NHL rookie record with a 20-game point streak in 2006-07.

"I think I showed in the three or four games before the [Olympic] break that I can play center," MacKinnon said. "But I feel good as a winger now, and I want to stick as a top-six forward for the rest of the year. So, in my mind, I'm a right winger now."

Defenseman Erik Johnson can return from a two-game suspension he received for slashing New York Islanders forward Frans Nielsen on Feb. 8.

Who's hot: St. Louis' four goals in two games give him 29 this season; he has six 30-goal seasons in the NHL. Forward Ondrej Palat has three goals and three assists in a four-game streak. Defenseman Sami Salo scored his second goal of the season and has three of his 11 points in the past three games. … MacKinnon has nine goals and five assists during his streak, and he leads NHL rookies with 22 goals and 25 assists. Forward Matt Duchene has five points in a three-game streak.

Injury report: Lightning forward Valtteri Filppula (ankle) was looking to play during this road trip but has not. Forward Steven Stamkos (leg) is aiming to return March 6. Goalie Anders Lindback (ankle) made 30 saves in a 4-0 shutout for Syracuse in the American Hockey League on a conditioning assignment Friday. … Avalanche center John Mitchell (groin) returned to play Friday. Forward David Van Der Gulik (head) is on injured reserve.

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