Divisional foes no more; Tampa Bay Lightning at Winnipeg Jets preview

USA TODAY Sports

It's the last time the Lightning will face the former Thrashers franchise as a divisional opponent. Though it wasn't storied, and the games never meant much - it was more of a rivalry than most will admit.

WHERE: MTS Center, Winnipeg, Manitoba
WHEN: 8 PM EDT | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: Fox Sports Florida (cable), 970 WFLA (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Arctic Ice Hockey

Another series with a divisional opponent comes to a close tonight; the end of the divisional rivalry (and I do say rivalry) with the Winnipeg Jets (nee Atlanta Thrashers).

Winnipeg - ownership, the media, the fans - tend to write off the history of the franchise, treating it as an expansion team and a continuation of the former Winnipeg Jets franchise (...the team that is now playing in Glendale, Arizona).

When the Winnipeg media does acknowledge the Jets as the former-Thrashers they are, they deride the "culture of losing" of the team. Yet, the Jets are just a continuation of the culture of mediocrity that is reining the Southeast Division at current. This may be a unified reason it is best the Southeast Division is being shut down: it will force all five of its former member clubs to raise their games if they want to be anything more than also-rans in their new respective divisions.

As for Tampa Bay and Winnipeg (nee Atlanta), both teams have traditionally struggled against one another at times. The Bolts owned a long winning streak against the Winnipeg/Atlanta franchise that was finally halted last season. Prior to that, at times in the past, it looked like the Lightning couldn't even buy a win in Atlanta.

The history between the clubs as divisional opponents comes to an end tonight. The six regular-season games between the teams will become two, or fewer depending on scheduling changes in the future. You can view all the results all time on MCCubed.net.

As for tonight, the Bolts have the opportunity to play the spoiler to the Jets playoff hopes, they also have the ability to play the enabler if they decide to phone it in and gift Winnipeg two points. The Jets are in 9th in the Eastern Conference, just outside the playoff picture - all of two points behind the New York Rangers (who have a game in hand). Winnipeg needs this win, Winnipeg wants this win. Arctic Ice Hockey has a full write-up of the Jets playoff scenarios.

What does Tampa Bay want, though?

The Lightning didn't seem to show up for more than a period in their overtime loss to Washington on Saturday, and Sunday's game in Buffalo was lackluster to some. Even with a day off on Monday, the pacing of these games does not help the effort level when you factor in the mixed results of how the Bolts perform when they are rested.

And the torrid pace of the season is a factor for all teams in the league, and many of them are competing just fine and dandy within it. Lack of rest can be seen as an excuse, nothing more.

Nate Thompson is back in the lineup tonight after that harmless little incident in Washington (snark, of course; glad you're okay Nate), as is Pierre-Cedric Labrie. Tom Pyatt, on the other hand, seems to be out of action from reports coming from practice.

Meanwhile, there has been a line change (several, actually) that doesn't seem due to injury: Alex Killorn is not playing on Vincent Lecavalier's line... He's paired with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. Ryan Malone and Ben Pouliot are on Lecavalier's wings during the morning skate at MTS Center. Lecavalier, who returned from injury on April 4th, has 6 points in 7 games, but even more goal-posts and scoring chances than are tracked by the league. Having the grit on his wings might further bolster Lightning opportunities.

As for Stamkos, he needs an injection, and hopefully Killorn can provide it. Stamkos has 6 points over the last 7 games as well, but of those 6 points, only one comes from a goal scored. He's gone quite cold in the Rocket Richard race, and what it stems from is not clear.

Ondrej Pavelec will get the start in net for the Jets tonight, while the Bolts will go back to Ben Bishop. Bishop was chased by the Capitals during his last outing... He is still the Lightning's go-to goaltender until Anders Lindback returns (...if he returns this season).

Other Previews

Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview

Full game coverage on SB Nation

Tickets -- Check Availability

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