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Surging Lightning visit slumping Senators

by Mike Battaglino

LIGHTNING (38-24-7) at SENATORS (28-27-13)


Last 10: Tampa Bay 5-3-2; Ottawa 2-6-2

Season series: The Tampa Bay Lightning won two of three games against the Ottawa Senators played prior to Feb. 1. The teams now play twice in five days.

Big story: Ottawa is on the brink of falling out of Stanley Cup Playoff contention; the Senators are 0-2-2 in their past four games and have fallen seven points out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with 14 games to go.

"I thought we should play for pride the whole year, not just the last 15 games," coach Paul MacLean said after practice Wednesday. "At the same time, mathematically things aren't in our favor, but we've got to play the games.

"I think we need to take great pride in saying we've played the 82 games and we played them hard. Now, we've said lots of times we haven't played hard enough or long enough, but you have to start somewhere."

Team Scope:

Lightning: Tampa Bay defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-3 Wednesday, using one of its two games in hand on the Montreal Canadiens to tie them with 83 points in the Atlantic Division, second behind the Boston Bruins (99).

The Lightning lead the Senators by 14 points.

"We didn't play too well last time we were in there (a 5-3 loss Jan. 30)," forward Ryan Malone told Sun Sports. "I think we've had some trouble with those guys. So we have to make sure we stay focused, get our rest tonight and get ready for tomorrow."

Tampa Bay has had a two-goal lead in nine of its past 12 games. The Lightning are 6-1-2 in those games, 6-4-2 overall in that span.

"I think we make it a little hard on ourselves sometimes," coach Jon Cooper said. "We've had some of these leads, and the big thing is we're pulling these games out. ... Hey, let's not forget, you have to get the lead somehow. ... To protect the lead you have to have the lead, and I'll take that any day of the week."

Goalie Ben Bishop, who has won four straight, is expected to play again after making 36 saves against Toronto.

Senators: Ottawa is coming off an 8-4 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday, a game that the Senators led 2-1.

"I think we've been an inconsistent team all year long, we've turned the puck over, for the most part, all the time, we play in our end too much because of that, and those things are still coming back to haunt us," MacLean told the Senators website. "The biggest concern to me is that game 68 we still do those types of things, but we're still a young group, we're still a group that's rebuilding, we're still a group that's trying to find itself and grow as a group."

Goalie Robin Lehner will make his fourth straight start in place of injured Craig Anderson. Lehner has given up 13 goals in his past three games; he has allowed fewer than three goals twice in his past eight starts.

"Being an NHL goaltender every day, it's not always going to go your way, and a lot of times the judge of your character and the judge of your ability as a player is how do you respond to what's going on around you," MacLean said. "That's the challenge, and maybe Robin hasn't had that challenge. This is something he has to go through.

"Eventually, if you aspire to be a No. 1 goalie in the National Hockey League, it's not always going to be smooth, there's going to be rough patches, and you have to respond to those rough patches. Your team needs you to just go out and be the goalie, they don't need you to be anything special, they just need you to be the goalie. That's the big thing, and the message we're sending to Robin, just come in tomorrow and be the goalie."

Who's hot: Lightning forward Steven Stamkos had a hat trick Wednesday and has five goals and seven points in his past four games. Valtteri Filppula has 10 points in a six-game streak. … Senators forward Mike Hoffman scored his first two NHL goals in the past five games. Center Jason Spezza has nine points in his past five games. Defenseman Erik Karlsson has five points in a four-game streak. Forward Mika Zibanejad has a goal in two straight games.

Injury report: The Lightning report no injuries. … Anderson (upper body) practiced Wednesday. Goalie Nathan Lawson (lower body) was injured filling in for Lehner on Tuesday. MacLean said the Senators will use Andrew Hammond as the backup to Lehner.

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