Lightning back home to challenge Canadiens
By Mike G. Morreale
CANADIENS (35-23-7) at LIGHTNING (37-20-7)
CBC, RDS (HD), SUN (HD)
Last 10 --
Montreal 5-3-2; Tampa Bay 4-4-2
Season series --
The third of four meetings between the Eastern Conference foes. Tampa Bay has won the previous two meetings. The Lightning scored a 4-3 overtime decision in Montreal on a goal by Ryan Malone that came after Steven Stamkos tied the contest with 1:19 remaining in regulation. On Dec. 30, Cedrick Desjardins made 27 saves in his first career start to lead Tampa to a 4-1 victory at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Big story --
Despite two straight losses, the Lightning remain atop the Southeast Division standings -- but barely. Tampa Bay enters the weekend one point ahead of the Washington Capitals, 81-80, with a game in hand. The club remains five points behind Eastern Conference frontrunner Philadelphia. The Canadiens are sixth in the East following three straight victories, four points behind the third-seeded Lightning and six points ahead of the seventh-seeded Hurricanes.
Since returning from a separated shoulder which sidelined him for 12 games, wing Michael Cammalleri has scored in two of the last four games on a line with center Tomas Plekanec and Jeff Halpern. Carey Price turned aside 30 shots to earn his seventh shutout of the season and Andrei Kostitsyn and Lars Eller each had a goal and an assist in Montreal's 4-0 victory over Florida on Thursday. Montreal defenseman Hal Gill scored his first goal in 100 games in the win. Ironically, Gill's previous goal on Dec. 31, 2009 came against the Panthers.
After winning back-to-back 2-1 contests (against the Rangers and Devils), the Lightning have dropped a pair of games by the same score (against the Devils and Bruins). On Thursday, Milan Lucic snapped a 1-1 tie with 3:42 left to give Boston its seventh straight victory and move the Bruins past Tampa Bay and into second place in the Eastern Conference. Stamkos has been limited to just one shot in three straight games -- including none against the Rangers and Devils. Stamkos has been held without a shot only four times all season. Tampa recalled forwards Blair Jones and Mattias Ritola from Norfolk of the American Hockey League before the game against Boston.
"We're getting better and better, defensively," coach Guy Boucher said. "We didn't give a lot of shots to a team that was home but, offensively, we're passing up shooting opportunities and that's not us. We're a shooting mentality team and there hasn't been enough of that."
Who's hot --
Kostitsyn has 3 goals and 7 points, including a pair of game-winners, in the last five games.
Injury report --
Montreal defenseman Jaroslav Spacek will miss 4-6 weeks following arthroscopic knee surgery. Forward Mathieu Darche (groin) and defensemen Andrei Markov (knee) and Josh Gorges (knee) are out. … Malone (abdominal) and defenseman Mike Lundin (abdominal) are out for Tampa Bay. Captain Vincent Lecavalier (mid-body injury), who was injured in a loss to the Devils on Wednesday, and defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron (back) are day-to-day.
Stat pack --
Montreal's Brian Gionta ranks seventh in the NHL with 245 shots on goal. … Stamkos is 17th in the League with 215 shots.
Puck drop --
Lightning goalie Mike Smith made his first NHL start since Dec. 18 on Thursday in a 2-1 loss to the Bruins, stopping 26 shots. Smith suffered a knee strain on Dec. 20 and missed a month before being waived and assigned to Norfolk of the American Hockey League. Smith will serve the remainder of the season as the backup to Dwayne Roloson, the likely starter against Montreal.