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Gateway to the West redux; Tampa Bay Lightning versus St. Louis Blues preview

Once again, St. Louis is the start of a Western Conference trial -- the last home game before a five-game road swing through the California and other west destinations.

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Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports


Where
:  Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
When: 7:30 PM EST | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports, NHL Network (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: St. Louis Game Time

Amalie Arena regulars, this is your last taste of a night of Tampa Bay Lightning hockey at the former Ice Palace for the next two weeks.  The Bolts start their final Western Conference road trip of the (regular) season Sunday evening in San Jose. Perhaps in the second season, Tampa Bay will see games in the Central, Mountain or Pacific Time zones (no pressure there, guys...) but for the moment they've got five dates left in the west. After the Sharks, Kings, Ducks, Coyotes and Avalanche, the rest of the west will be dates at the Amalie against the Blackhawks, Jets, Stars, and Predators.

It's a trial of distance, it's a trial of endurance, and it's another road trip that comes to a conclusion just before the 2015 NHL trade deadline goes into effect at 3 PM on March 2nd.  Actually, they get home a few days before that, unlike last year where a road trip ended just before the deadline.

The trade deadline is invoked here because the team could be a mite different before they return to 401 Channelside Drive for the last stretch of the season. You saw it play out yesterday, deals are starting to be done and they'll continue to be done. Integral faces could end up elsewhere, or new additions might be part of the cast of characters that you know and love.

Yeah, changes. Or Jedi Master Steve Yzerman opts to stand pat and let the cards fall where they may. That's another discussion to have at another time.  Right now, it's game day and the opponent is still one of the better team sin the Western Conference's highly competitive Central Division.

Including their overtime victory over the Lightning on February 3rd, the Blues have gone 3-2-0 in their past five games.  Of the four contests that have taken place between games with the Lightning, the Blues were humiliated by the Columbus Blue Jackets (7-1 Union Army HC) and dropped another to division rival Chicago (4-2) while winning games against teams they should be winning games against - the Buffalo Sabres (3-0) and Arizona Coyotes (2-1).

There was no morning skate for the Lightning, but Cedric Paquette is day-to-day and Vladislav Namestnikov was called up yesterday from the Syracuse Crunch - expect him in the lineup tonight. Perhaps Jon Cooper will simply replace Paquette with Vladdy in the lineup (meaning Namestnikov centering Alex Killorn and Jonathan Drouin) but anything is possible.  A bigger lineup shift could take place.

The idea that tonight will be another goalie duel is pretty plausible: it's Ben Bishop versus Brian Elliott once again in the crease.  The stats of both netminders have fluctuated since their last meeting - Elliott's GAA is up to 2.11 and his save percentage is down to .923 while Ben Bishop's GAA has slipped to 2.38 with a .912 save percentage.

Very minor shift for either man, very big potential this is going to be another tough contest that necessitates a barrage of shots on Elliott...shots that the Blues don't tend to give up.

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