The Lightning is starting the final stretch of the season now - the last nine games - on the road with a back-to-back divisional affair against the Buffalo Sabres tonight and the Detroit Red Wings tomorrow. That game, starting at 5 PM, should be looked at as playoff caliber even with the fact it'll be the latter half of back-to-back games for both clubs; Detroit is one of four teams tied at 80 points and vying for two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference. Detroit's playing Toronto tonight in what should be looked at as a make-or-break affair for the Leafs, who have played two more games than the Red Wings and are nose-diving out of playoff contention.
But that's Detroit, tonight it's Buffalo and... Ugh, Buffalo. The Lightning has not played well against the worst team in the NHL this season. Circumstances, I would think, dominated the horrible result from their March 6th meeting at Times Palace. That being said, the worst team in the league has played the Bolts close every single time the two squads have met up this season. I don't think tonight will be an exception.
Ben Bishop, despite showing pain during game play against the New York Islanders on Thursday, is slated to start this one for Tampa Bay. It's not like fans haven't noticed or expressed concern about the situation, but the club keeps rolling the dice on Ben. In an ideal world, Anders Lindback would start tonight and Bishop would play tomorrow against the fighting-for-the-playoffs Red Wings. Instead, it looks like Tampa will again tempt fate and play Bishop back-to-back (I hope I'm wrong on that.)
The Sabres, on the other hand, tempted fate by trading away Ryan Miller at the trade deadline and invested in Jhonas Enroth in full. Enroth, who nearly shut out the Bolts earlier this month, went down with a lower body injury. The Sabres, who had acquired and then traded of Jaroslav Halak, haven't had much of a backup plan. They start Matt Hackett tonight. Much of Hackett's career has been served as a minor league netminder - AHL starts for the Houston Aeros and Rochester Americans with a few appearances with the Minnesota Wild in the past. He's made 3 appearances with the Sabres at this point, posting a 3.02 GAA and a .919 save percentage.
Do not make the mistake of underestimating the Sabres or brushing them off though. Not with how the Bolts have played them this season. The Sabres average the least goals scored per game this season (1.82) and take only 26.3 shots (on average) per game. Tampa Bay is 2-1-0 against them, needing overtime to beat them once and has given up 7 goals to the Sabres (while being limited to 7 goals of their own) this season.
It looks like, from Damian Cristodero's tweet, the Bolts are going with the same lineup as recent: 12 forwards, 6 defensemen (scratches are Keith Aulie, Mark Barberio, Richard Panik, Cody Kunyk, Tom Pyatt.)
One last note for this one and in general: While Cory Conacher and Martin St. Louis changed teams on March 5th, Conacher (who will be playing tonight for the Sabres) has more points (2 goals, 3 assists) in fewer games played (10) with the Sabres than Marty does with the Rangers (3 assists in 13 games played.) You'll have to do some statistical searches to find the last time St. Louis only posted 3 points in a 13 game span, because I can't even recollect when he hadn't scored a goal in that length of time, let alone only notched 3 assists in that span.
Other Game Coverage: