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A shrinking season; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Columbus Blue Jackets preview

A season of what-could-have-been is what is left for Columbus, but don't write the Union Army HC off in their latest visit to Amalie Arena.

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

:  Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
When: 7:30 PM EST | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports (cable) | (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: The Cannon, The Dark Blue Jacket

With the Columbus Blue Jackets at Amalie Arena tonight, another season series against a Metro Division opponent comes to an end. Tampa Bay concluded the season series with the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes as of this point in time while the season series with the New Jersey Devils comes to an end in April.

It is a quirk in the schedule for Eastern Conference teams to have their series' ceased early, but it's also an important fact: the 2014-15 NHL regular season is dissipating. There will be fewer opportunities for bubble teams to force their way into playoff contention, and weight will be added to the seeding of both playoff contenders and NHL draft lottery odds.

The Lightning, atop the Atlantic Division at the moment, is one of the teams that will be jockeying for position among playoff contenders. Columbus, the franchise I fondly refer to as Union Army HC, is one of those bubble teams that likely won't force their way into the Eastern Conference playoffs, but they're also on much better footing as an organization than the dregs of the league (the Edmonton Oilers, the Arizona Coyotes, the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes). You won't see an asset sell-off like what is in store in Arizona, or the beginning of another rebuilding phase in Edmonton.

If injuries hadn't decimated the club early on and further with Sergei Bobrovsky falling to a groin injury before the All-Star break, Columbus would likely be jockeying for playoff position while the Rangers or even the Capitals would be trying to force their way into contention.

Union Army HC is 4-6-0 in their past 10 games... And while the narrative here is lately talking about how the club isn't a contender, let me remind you standings don't mean s-with-a-t and Columbus has proven that to the Bolts.

Columbus owns one of four wins against the Lightning at Amalie Arena this season and Tampa Bay has a franchise record winning streak at the Amalie going on at the moment.

Luke Witkowski will be in the lineup tonight, his second ever NHL game and Nikita Nesterov is the odd-man-out on the blue line by way of it. Brendan Morrow will also be back in the lineup for the Bolts while

J.T. Brown will sit.

Ben Bishop starts between the pipes for the Lightning, his seventh consecutive start. It'll be Curtis McElhinney in goal for Columbus. Bishop owned the board on Thursday against Detroit and earned his 25th win of the season. McElhinney has 17 appearances this season for Union Army; his GAA is just under 3 and save percentage is .906.

Other Game Coverage: