Last time the Lightning and the Anaheim Ducks danced... No one in Tampa Bay saw it. The game wasn't televised in the Tampa Bay area and because of that, everyone missed watching Steven Stamkos' amazing "Goal of the year".
But that was November. A long, long time ago in a place far, far away... Now? We're in the latter half of the NHL season, which is about to be punctuated by the Olympic break (are you counting the days, people? The league goes lights-out for two weeks starting on February 15th), with the trade deadline looming (March 3rd).
And now both teams are in the playoff hunt.
The Ducks are all of five points out of the eighth seed in a very competitive Western Conference. Meanwhile, going into tonight's action, the Bolts are currently the 12th in the Eastern Conference. One point out of the eighth seed and final playoff spot, currently held by the Florida Panthers.
A win tonight lets the Bolts keep pace in the East and they can potentially leapfrog up to four teams in the standings. Two teams immediately in front of the Lightning, the Bruins and Panthers, are in action tonight against conference leaders Buffalo and Washington.
And a loss? A loss keeps them on the outside, looking in. Every time the team gets to winning, or on a stronger streak, the fans hope they have turned the corner.
Now is the prime opportunity to prove it.
The Lightning are 6-4-0 in their last ten. Likewise, the Ducks are 6-4-0 in their last ten. The difference is simply the fact the Bolts have won three straight while the Ducks have lost back-to-back games during their current road trip.
This game should be competitive if both teams show up for it (and we all know the Lightning have had a tendency to skip out on games from time to time instead of competing in them). Both teams are ranked highly on the power play (TB 19.5%, 8th in the league, Anaheim 18.6%, 11th in the league) and lower-middle of the pack on the penalty kill (Anaheim: 80.1%, 21st, Tampa Bay 79.9%, 22nd).
I believe Rick Tocchet will try to get goaltender Mike Smith in a game sometime soon, his first action since he hurt his neck against the Washington Capitals, but right now is not that time.
Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines
(updated January 29, 2010 by Raw Charge - subject to change)
Ryan Malone - Vincent Lecavalier - Jeff Halpern
Martin St. Louis - Steven Stamkos - Steve Downie
Brandon Bochenski - Paul Szczchura - Alex Tanguay
Nate Thompson - Zenon Konopka - Kurtis Foster
Mattias Ohlund - Mike Lundin
Matt Walker - Victor Hedman
Andrej Meszaros - Matt Smaby
Antero Niittymaki (starter)