GAME: Tampa Bay Lightning (31-17-7-3) at St. Louis Blues (28-22-7-1).
TIME: Thursday, 8 p.m. EST.
Apparently, winning the Southeast Division isn't going to be good enough for
the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The surging Lightning, winners of four straight, will try to move closer to
the top spot in the Eastern Conference when they open a four-game trip against
the St. Louis Blues.
It looked like Tampa Bay would be battling just to make the playoffs after a
2-0 loss to Columbus on Jan. 2 left them one game over .500 (15-14-6-1). Few
teams, however, have played better during the past six weeks than the
Lightning, 16-3-1-2 since that defeat.
Tampa Bay, closing in on its second straight Southeast Division title,
improved to 10-1-1 in its last 12 with a 5-2 victory over visiting Philadelphia
Brad Richards and Cory Stillman each had a goal and two assists for the
Lightning, who pulled within six points of the Flyers for the top seed in the
East. Tampa Bay is 14 games over .500 for the first time in franchise history.
"We're just not going to try and play to win the division and shut it
down," Richards said. "We want to do more. We've got to think like the top
teams in the conference and in the league."
The Lightning's best players have been leading the way lately.
All-Star Martin St. Louis is one of the league's hottest scorers, with five
goals and five assists during a five-game point streak. He has 14 goals and 28
points in his last 17 games.
Top center Vincent Lecavalier has five goals and six assists during a
seven-game point streak.
The Blues' run of 24 straight playoff appearances could be in jeopardy this
season. St. Louis is battling several teams for one of the final four
postseason berths in the Western Conference.
Jamal Mayers' weak shot from near the goal line deflected in off goalie
Brian Boucher's skate with four minutes left in regulation Monday, lifting St.
Louis to a 4-2 victory over Phoenix.
"Those are the bounces we need, that's for sure," defenseman Chris Pronger
said. "We'll take it."
The Blues looked like one of the top teams in the Western Conference earlier
in the season, but Monday's win gave them consecutive victories for the first
time since Dec. 16-18, a stretch of 29 games.
"Wow, it's been a long time coming," forward Keith Tkachuk said. "We
found a way to win, something to keep this ball rolling."
Chris Osgood, who has won his last two starts, figures to be in net
Thursday. He is 13-0 with a 1.60 goals-against average lifetime against Tampa
STANDINGS (through Feb. 17): Lightning - 72 points, 1st place, Southeast
Division. Blues - 64 points, 2nd place, 12 PB, Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Lightning - St. Louis, 29 goals, 36 assists and 65 points;
Chris Dingman, 117 PIM. Blues - Tkachuk, 24 goals and 55 points; Doug Weight,
39 assists; Mike Danton, 132 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Feb. 17): Lightning - Power play: 16.1 percent (40
for 249), 15th in NHL. Penalty killing: 85.1 percent (171 for 201), 10th. Blues
- Power play: 18.0 percent (46 for 255), 7th. Penalty killing: 84.0 percent
(242 for 288), 19th.
GOALTENDERS: Lightning - Nikolai Khabibulin (16-14-6, 2 SO, 2.33 GAA); John
Grahame (15-6-1, 1, 1.76). Blues - Osgood (21-18-5, 2, 2.34); Reinhard Divis
SEASON SERIES: 0-0-1.
LAST MEETING: Nov. 28; 2-2 tie. At Tampa, Fla., Eric Nickulas and Tkachuk
scored third-period goals to rally the Blues to the draw.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Lightning - 15-10-3-1 on the road; Blues - 17-8-5-0 at