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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 on Tuesday.

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 Bay.

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 (3-2-1, 3.12).


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 home.

Associated Press
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