SENATORS (34-25-8) at LIGHTNING (31-28-6)
TV: SNET-E, TVA, SUN (HD)
Ottawa 6-3-1; Tampa Bay 7-3-0
The Senators have taken all three games with the Lightning so far this season. In their last meeting the Sens beat up Tampa Bay 4-0 on Valentine's Day at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Given how they've performed against the Senators this year, the Lightning are probably quite happy to be done with them in 2011-12 after Tuesday, and given how interesting their season has become all of the sudden it couldn't happen soon enough. The Bolts have managed to pull themselves back into the playoff discussion, but will still have to hop several teams to crash the postseason party -- and one of those teams just might be the currently seventh-seeded Sens.
In a second half of streaky teams the Senators may be making a bid for the title of streakiest. A hot streak leading up to this season's All-Star Game in Ottawa had many praising the accelerated rebuilding process in Canada's capital. But that was followed by a rough patch for most of February that was later bookended by another hot streak in which Ottawa won six of seven games.
As a result, the Sens have jumped back up into the top eight and are currently nestled in the seventh position, but they haven't done themselves any favors by dropping their last two games, including a 4-2 loss to Florida on Sunday night in which they blew an early two-goal lead. While they're just one point behind sixth-place New Jersey, the Devils have two games in hand, and the distance between Ottawa and the nine spot is hardly solid.
After nearly reaching the Stanley Cup Final last spring Tampa Bay was among the most disappointing teams in the League over its first half, but "was" may be the key word. The Lightning have been striking at a rapid pace lately, winning four games in a row and seven of their last nine. While the Bolts have not yet cracked the top eight in the East it no longer looks like a pipe dream, and Tampa Bay could very well find a way to break through, particularly with the two games it will have in hand on eighth-place Winnipeg when the puck drops Tuesday.
The Lightning's resurgence is doubtlessly a cooperative effort, but two people that loom large are MVP candidate Steven Stamkos
, whose League-leading 47th goal of the year gave them a 4-3 overtime win in Carolina on Saturday -- the team's second OT win in as many games. As well, Mathieu Garon
may be giving the Bolts the stability in the net they've lacked most of this season, having won six of his last seven starts.
Tampa Bay's Teddy Purcell
has already tied his single-season career high with 52 points so far, and with 17 games left he seems destined to smash it. That is due in large part to his absolutely torrid play of late, in which Purcell has put up 19 points in his last nine games. … Jason Spezza
had his 11-game point streak snapped Sunday, but considering that over the preceding stretch he tallied 8 goals and 14 assists, his stick isn't likely to have cooled just yet.
The Senators are still without starting goalie Craig Anderson
, who lacerated his pinky finger during an accident at his home last month. … The Lightning recently lost defenseman Victor Hedman
to an upper-body injury, while center Vincent Lecavalier
is still out with a broken hand he suffered last month.
In a bizarre statistical coincidence the Sens have beaten the Bolts in their previous three meetings by scores of, in order, 4-2, 4-1 and 4-0. Unless Tampa Bay finds a way to score negative goals Tuesday night, something will have to give.
Given the Lightning's recent hot streak, Ottawa might be wary of losing its grip over Tampa Bay. After all, the Sens just saw their nine-game winning streak against Florida go up in smoke. Ottawa may be doing its best to snap its brief losing streak by making a change in net -- Robin Lehner was sent to AHL Binghamton Monday while recently-acquired Ben Bishop
was given the promotion to the big club. Bishop would face a tall order if he starts Tuesday against the Bolts, though. After all, Tampa Bay faces a tremendous opportunity, as following a brief trip to Washington on Thursday it plays its next seven games at home. If the Bolts make a run at the postseason, the time is now.