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Crashing The Net: Bolts Begin Week With Crucial Back-To-Back Road Games

At the very beginning of February, the Tampa Bay Lightning (32-26-9) looked like a ship that had sprung multiple leaks and was sinking fast. Heading into their game against the Anaheim Ducks at Amalie Arena on February 4, the Lightning had 50 points and sat in last place in the Eastern Conference. Things looked bleak around a team that was a Stanley Cup favorite. Then a funny thing happened. The Lightning beat the Ducks 3-2 in a shootout. Then the wins began to trickle in with more regularity. Even when they were losing games, they were getting points more often than not.

Fast forward to March 13. The Lightning have gone 10-2-3 in their last 15 games and currently have 73 points, just three behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and five behind the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division. Since February 4, Tampa Bay owns the third-best points percentage in the NHL (.767), only trailing Calgary (.821) and Chicago (.786) in that time frame. Nikita Kucherov has been unconsciously hot lately, posting 10 goals and 18 points in the Lightning’s last nine games. Andrei Vasilevskiy has gone 5-0-1 since taking over as the number-one goaltender following the trade of Ben Bishop. Yanni Gourde also notched his first career NHL goal against the Florida Panthers on Saturday night.

Last week saw the Lightning follow up a heartbreaking 1-0 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on home ice with back-to-back victories over the Minnesota Wild and the Panthers at Amalie Arena. The 4-1 victory over the Wild came at a cost, as centers Tyler Johnson, Vlad Namestnikov, and Cedric Paquette all went down with lower-body injuries, but are listed as day-to-day. Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times even reported that Namestnikov took part in the morning skate on Monday and could play, although Johnson and Paquette will not suit up. Johnson traveled with the team for their brief two-game trip, while Paquette did not.The Lightning will look to continue their playoff push as they have four games this week, the first two of which are those back-to-back crucial road games beginning at Madison Square Garden. Later in the week, we’ll preview Thursday’s and Saturday’s games, but for now, we’re going to focus on this two-game road swing in this week’s first edition of Crashing The Net.

MONDAY, MARCH 13 AT N.Y. RANGERS, 7 PM ON FOX SPORTS SUN

The Lightning will look to avoid a three-game season sweep at the hands of the New York Rangers (44-23-2) when they face off in MSG to begin this important two-game road trip. Tampa Bay lost a thrilling 1-0 game in overtime exactly one week ago to the Rangers at Amalie Arena as Vasilevskiy made 33 saves and Antti Raanta stopped all 38 Lightning shots in getting the shutout. Since then, the Bolts have won their last two, with Vasilevskiy holding the fort in each of those contests, although Peter Budaj is expected to get the starting nod in this one. However, they haven’t fared well against New York recently, losing the last four meetings dating back to December 30, 2015 by a combined scored of 15-5. Despite that, the Lightning are still 6-4-1 in their last 11 matchups with the Rangers.

The Rangers followed up their win in Tampa with a 5-2 road win over the Florida Panthers, a 4-3 loss in Raleigh against Carolina, and a dominant 4-1 win over Detroit at Joe Louis Arena, closing out their four-game road trip with a 3-1-0 mark. However, they’ll be without starting netminder Henrik Lundqvist for up to 2-3 weeks due to a hip injury he suffered against the Panthers. New York recalled Marcus Hellberg from Hartford of the AHL to back up Raanta, who will get the lion’s share of the starts until Lundqvist returns.

Tampa Bay recalled forward Byron Froese from Syracuse of the AHL and re-assigned forward Matthew Peca, so expect Froese to make his Lightning debut in this game.

TUESDAY, MARCH 14 AT OTTAWA, 7:30 PM ON FOX SPORTS SUN

This important two-game trip away from home comes to an end in Ottawa, as the Lightning take on the red-hot Ottawa Senators (39-22-6) at the Canadian Tire Centre in the final game of their four-game season series. The Lightning are 2-1-0 against the Senators this season, winning the team’s previous meeting at Ottawa 4-1 back on October 22. In between, the teams split their two meetings at Amalie Arena, with the Sens winning 5-2 on February 2 and the Bolts coming out on top by a 5-1 score on February 27 in a game in which Kucherov recorded a natural hat trick. Since that game, Ottawa has been on a roll, winning their last six contests, four of which came last week.

They began the week by beating Boston 4-2 at home, then swept a three-game road trip with a 5-2 win in Dallas, a 3-2 overtime win in Arizona, and a 4-2 win in Colorado. Craig Anderson was in net for the victory over Colorado, earning his 147th victory in a Senators uniform, passing Patrick Lalime for the most wins by a goalie in franchise history. Defenseman Erik Karlsson was named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week after racking up six points (2 goals, 4 assists) in four games, including the overtime winner in Arizona. Ottawa currently has 84 points, just two behind the Montreal Canadiens for the top spot in the Atlantic Division while also having two games in hand. However, the Senators received some bad news on Monday as the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reports that forward Mark Stone will be out week-to-week with a lower body injury:

Stone is tied for the team lead with 22 goals and is also Ottawa’s second-leading scorer with 50 points, so not having him in the lineup for a while will be a blow for a Senators team looking to continue their push for the top of the Atlantic as they begin their three-game homestand against the Bolts.

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