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Wild and Lightning try to snap slumps

by Matthew Mankiewich

WILD (7-6-2) at LIGHTNING (8-6-2)

TV -- FS-North (HD), FS-Wisconsin (HD), SUN (HD)

Last 10 -- Minnesota 5-4-1, Tampa Bay 4-5-1

Season series -- It's an inter-conference one-shot deal. The two teams last Nov. 12, also at the St. Pete Times Forum, in a 4-3 shootout win for the Lightning. As he's been doing this season, Steven Stamkos carried the Bolts with a shorthanded goal, an assist on another and the shootout winner.

Big story -- The Lightning have Stamkos, and he's leading the League in goals and points. His team, though, has lost five of six because nobody else is scoring. Of the 12 goals the Bolts scored in the six-game stretch, half came from Stamkos. He's the only Lightning player with more than one goal over the last seven games. Minnesota doesn't have Stamkos, but it's having trouble scoring, too. The Wild scored a single goal in each of their last two games -- both losses -- and have put up two or fewer in eight of their last nine.

Team scope

Wild -- The news reached the team that defenseman Brent Burns would be suspended two games for catching the Panthers' Steve Bernier on the right cheek with the butt end of his stick. Bernier suffered a broken orbital bone and underwent surgery Saturday afternoon.

Burns was distraught over the incident and texted Bernier early Saturday.

"What I went through the last two years with injuries, I don't want to hurt anybody," Burns said to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "I think I play the game pretty hard, but I love to play hockey and I don't want to hurt anybody. At the end of the day, it's a game. To know he was hurt, I felt pretty bad and still do.

"Obviously there's no intent. There's 10 scrums like that a game. I'm not even trying to fight him. If I try to fight him, I'm a righty. ... But I've got to be responsible for my stick."

Lightning -- Coach Guy Boucher likened it to a chess game before facing the Penguins on Friday. He said to the St. Petersburg Times that he enjoyed the challenge he faced "when I'm down, when I lose one of my main pieces and things look like (shaking his hands) aargh."

Without key pieces like forwards Vinny Lecavalier (fractured knuckle), Simon Gagne (neck), Steve Downie (neck) and with Dana Tyrell a late scratch due to the flu, Boucher had 11 forwards to work with and wasn't able to go with established lines. The forward shortage also forced a change in strategy to a more defensive stance than his run-and-gun team was used to. It kept them in the game against the Penguins for a while, limiting them to just 20 shots, but five of those went in the net for a 5-1 Pens win.

"It's a battle right now," Stamkos said. "It's a big adversity test for our team. We got to find a way to battle through it."

Who's hot -- Stamkos' 15 goals in 16 games is a remarkable feat in itself, but keep in mind that he didn't score his 15th until his 21st game last season en route to a League-leading 51 -- he shared the Rocket Richard Trophy with Crosby. … Cal Clutterbuck is as hot as anyone on the Wild can be given their low scoring, with three goals in four games.

Injury report -- Of Tampa Bay's injured forwards, Downie has the best chance of getting back quickly, maybe even for Sunday's game. Lecavalier will have to sit and wait for his fractured hand to heal, while GM Steve Yzerman told the St. Petersburg Times that doctors have ruled out "with almost certainty" that Gagne's head/neck problem is concussion-related. On the Wild side, Marek Zidlicky (leg) and Chuck Kobasew (groin) remain day-to-day.

Stat pack -- Niklas Backstrom is expected to start Sunday for Minnesota, and he owns a 3-0-1 record and a 1.68 goals-against average against the Lightning. Meanwhile, Mike Smith has been struggling lately, stopping only 15 shots in the loss at Pittsburgh and posting an 0-3-0 record and a 4.39 GAA in his last four games. He has split the starts with Dan Ellis with eight each, and Ellis has a 3-1-1 mark with a 1.66 GAA and two shutouts in his last five games. He didn't fare quite as well in two starts against the Wild last season, though, going 0-1-0 with a 6.74 GAA. Smith's numbers are much better against Minnesota -- he's 2-3-1 with a 1.58 GAA and two shutouts in six starts. … The Wild have been outshot 14 of 15 games this season.

Puck drop -- Both teams are going through similar problems with injuries and low production from top lines. The Lightning have Stamkos, but other options need to emerge, just as they do with the Wild.

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