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Red Wings, Lightning battle for first in Atlantic

by Corey Long / NHL.com

RED WINGS (28-11-9) at LIGHTNING (30-15-4)

TV: FS-D+, SUN

TAMPA -- First place in the Atlantic Division will be on the line when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Detroit Red Wings at Amalie Arena on Thursday.

The Red Wings (28-11-9) have won their past six games and sit atop the division with 65 points after a 5-4 win against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.

Tampa Bay (30-15-4) has won its past eight games at Amalie Arena, but comes off a 4-2 road loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday. In that game the Lightning fell behind 2-0 early in the first period and struggled to recover from the slow start.

"It's clear that when games reach this stage of the season the stakes get higher and teams play differently," Lightning goalie Ben Bishop said. "So when you have slow starts like that it becomes tougher to come back because teams tighten up a little more defensively."

Tampa Bay forward Ryan Callahan said there will be no time for a slow start Thursday as the Lightning hold a one-point lead over the Montreal Canadiens for second place in the Atlantic, with the Canadiens having three games in hand.

"There was no excuse for the effort against Carolina and I don't expect that to be a problem [Thursday]," Callahan said. "This is a big divisional game at home against a team we're close to in the standings. We should be ready to go."

Recently the Lightning have struggled on their power play, and that was evident Tuesday as three power-play opportunities generated just two shots on goal. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said the effort will need to be improved.

"What we are doing on the power play isn't good enough right now," Stamkos said. "We aren't creating like we need to and we're going to need to take advantage of those opportunities as we continue through this part of the season. The [Red Wings] will provide a great measuring stick for us because they are always in the playoff mix, they always play with discipline and skill."

Lightning coach Jon Cooper agrees and believes the Red Wings are the best team in the Eastern Conference.

"Look at the standings and you'll see that they have the least amount of losses in regulation in the conference," Cooper said. "I think Anaheim might have the fewest in the League, but everything in the East goes through Detroit right now."

Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg has been one of the Red Wings' hot hands with nine points (five goals, four assists) in the past four games. Goaltender Petr Mrazek has been a solid replacement for starter Jimmy Howard, who has been out with a groin injury since Jan. 10. Mrazek has a 10-3-1 record and .913 save percentage in 15 games this season.

Here are the projected lineups:

RED WINGS

Gustav Nyquist - Henrik Zetterberg - Justin Abdelkader

Tomas Tatar - Pavel Datsyuk - Darren Helm

Stephen Weiss - Riley Sheahan - Luke Glendening

Drew Miller- Joakim Andersson - Tomas Jurco

Jonathan Ericsson - Niklas Kronwall

Kyle Quincey - Danny DeKeyser

Brendan Smith - Xavier Ouellet

Petr Mrazek

Tom McCollum

Scratched: Brian Lashoff, Jakub Kindl

Injured: Jonas Gustavsson (shoulder), Johan Franzen (head), Jimmy Howard (groin)

LIGHTNING

Alex KillornSteven StamkosJonathan Drouin

Ondrej PalatTyler JohnsonNikita Kucherov

Cedric PaquetteValtteri FilppulaRyan Callahan

J.T. BrownBrian BoyleBrett Connolly

Anton StralmanVictor Hedman

Nikita NesterovMark Barberio

Jason GarrisonAndrej Sustr

Ben Bishop

Evgeni Nabokov

Scratched: Brenden Morrow, Luke Witkowski

Injured: Radko Gudas (knee surgery), Matthew Carle (abdominal surgery)

Status report: The Lightning participated in an optional skate Thursday after having a full practice Wednesday. … Howard and Gustavsson did not participate in the morning skate Thursday but did some conditioning work. … Kindl is no longer on the injured list but is not expected to play.

Who's hot: Weiss had a goal and two assists against the Panthers. … Boyle has scored a goal in each of the past two games.

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