TAMPA, FL - The Oilers and Tampa Bay Lightning have something in common as they enter their showdown tonight. Both teams are hot.
Edmonton is riding a three-game win streak and has points in four of their last five. They have outscored opponents 14-6 in their last three games. The Lightning are unbeaten in regulation in their last six games, boasting a 4-0-2 record and allowing more than two goals only once in that stretch.
Ben Bishop is expected to start tonight for Tampa Bay - a big goaltender playing well in this last stretch.
"We've got to be smart when we shoot the puck," said Oilers defenceman Oscar Klefbom. "We've got to place the pucks well and we've got to be smart in the offensive zone for sure and create those secondary chances we might have been missing during the season, I think."
Defenceman Kris Russell returns to action for the first time since February 3. He is recovered from his injury and has been practicing with the team for several days.
"I've gotten the legs and lungs back over the past few days where they feel good and ready," said Russell. "I'm excited about jumping back in."
The Oilers blueline has played pretty well of late, highlighted by the performances of its youth like Matt Benning. However, getting Russell back only bolsters the backend.
"We've got to get Kris Russell playing again," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. "He's been a big part of our long-term success so far this year. As we move forward, we expect him to have an impact like he did earlier in the year and on through. Puck mover, shot blocker, penalty killer and veteran stability back there. That's what he brings."
BROSSOIT BETWEEN THE PIPES
In the opening game of the Oilers back-to-back in Florida, the team will put Laurent Brossoit in net. That means Brossoit starts for the first time since January 21, which resulted in a 7-3 win in Calgary for his first NHL victory.
"Every game means a lot right now down this stretch, and to be counted on for starts is a special feeling and I'm just looking to contribute in a positive way," said Brossoit.
The Oilers defence will try and make it as easy as possible for their young netminder who hasn't had a lot of playing time this season.
"We need to talk a lot and give him as much time as possible out there," said Klefbom. "Everything goes so fast so when they dump the puck in and he goes out to stop it, just talk to him so he knows what to do with the puck. I know from a defensive perspective, it goes so fast and you just have a split second to do something with the puck. So just talk to him and try to give him as much confidence as possible on the ice."
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (32-19-8) at LIGHTNING (26-24-8)
TV: 5:30 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet West
Tonight's game marks the second and final meeting between the Oilers and Lightning this season and the lone game in Tampa Bay. The last time these teams faced each other in Tampa bay was on January 19th, 2016, when the Lightning edged the Oilers 6-4.
The last time these teams met was one week ago on December 17th, 2016 in Edmonton, when the Oilers topped the Lightning 3-2 in a shootout. Mark Letestu and Connor McDavid scored for the Oilers in the shootout, while Jonathan Drouin scored Tampa Bay's lone goal.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers have won three straight games, and four of their last five, heading into tonight's contest. They are tied with Anaheim for second place in the Pacific Division with 72 points and five points behind San Jose for top spot in the Pacific, The Oilers have two games in hand on Anaheim and one on San Jose.
Connor McDavid was named the NHL's third star of the week and remains atop of the NHL scoring race.
Connor McDavid scored last game against Chicago and now has a two-point lead on Sidney Crosby (PIT) and three-point lead on Brent Burns (SJ) for the league lead in scoring with 67 points (20G, 47A) in 59 games. McDavid has led the league in scoring at some point in all four months of the 2016-17 season. He has led or co-led the NHL in scoring since Nov. 22, 2016.
The next three away games (Tampa Bay, Florida and Washington) will mark the first times McDavid has played in these cities, since his injury last year kept him out of all three visiting team's buildings.
Milan Lucic scored for the first time in 11 games against Chicago last game and now has 32 points (12G, 20A) in 59 games this season.
Lucic has notched five points (3G, 2A) in 11 games against Atlantic division opponents this season and recorded 19 points (11G, 8A) and 40 penalty minutes in 31 career games against the Lightning.
Lightning team scope:
Tampa Bay sits in seventh place in the Atlantic Division with 60 points after making the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season and playing the finals the year before.
They are six points behind Boston for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand but a tough task ahead with four teams between them and the Bruins in the standings.
Nikita Kucherov leads the Bolts with 49 points and 21 goals in 51 games this season. Second on the team is Victor Hedman, who has 48 points in 55 contests. Hedman ranks third in the NHL in scoring by a defenceman.
Jonathan Drouin is third on the team with 17 goals and 36 points in 50 games played. Drouin only played 21 games in the NHL all of last season and had four goals and 10 points in those contests. Drouin did break out in the playoffs last year, however, when he had five goals and 14 points in 17 games.