Verizon Center hosts the finale divisional game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals tonight. A second divisional-opponent finale is forthcoming on this road trip as the Lightning will venture to Winnipeg during the week to take on the former Thrashers of Atlanta. The Jets have stumbled just enough, and the Capitals have surged... So, for the sake of their collective playoff lives, Winnipeg will need that game... And Washington, tonight's opponent, wants the two points at their disposal.
For the Lightning, their playoff aspirations are over. They're playing for pride, for coaching, and for hardware. I've already touched on this in previous previews here on the Charge: Steven Stamkos is vying for the Rocket Richard and Art Ross Trophy. Martin St. Louis is now tied for the league lead in assists with the idle Sidney Crosby; he's also third in the Art Ross Trophy race behind Crosby and Stamkos.
Stamkos is tied for the league lead in goals scored, tied with Alex Ovechkin. You remember Alex, right? The guys they've been writing off for a few seasons now because of lack of production and la-de-da? The guy they were openly musing about as trade bait a few months back? Yeah, him. 26 goals, 18 assists and 7 games left in the Capitals season; Ovechkin is as much a part of the Art Ross trophy race as Stamkos and St. Louis.
It's because of Ovi, in part, the Capitals are the hottest team in the National Hockey League right now. Winners of their past 6 games, the Caps remain only a scant 2 points in front of the Winnipeg Jets in the divisional standing. A win tonight puts them ever so much closer to clinching their 7th and final Southeast Division championship.
Right wing Martin Erat will be back in the lineup for the capitals this evening. Erat, who was acquired from the Predators at the trade deadline, has played only a single full game with the Capitals. He was injured early in his second contest with the Caps and has sat for the past week.
As for the Lightning: With Brett Connolly and Tyler Johnson sent back to the Syracuse Crunch yesterday, Benoit Pouliot and Tom Pyatt are likely back in the Lightning lineup. The question is if Dana Tyrell be back too? Pierre-Cedric Labrie suffered an upper body injury (or aggravated his old one) during the loss tot eh Penguins on Thursday and is out of the lineup. But with Victor Hedman back in action for the Bolts, the possibility that the team skates 11 forwards and 7 defensemen is surely possible (meaning Mark Barberio plays in favor of Tyrell or another forward).
Ben Bishop will start his sixth straight game for the Lightning; he'll be squaring off against Braden Holtby for the Caps.
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