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Goalies save; Tampa Bay Lightning at Ottawa Senators preview

While Carey Price is painted as the pending trophy winner, the true major efforts to contention lie elsewhere in the NHL.

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Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports


Where: Canadian Tire Centre, Ottawa, Ontario
When: 7:30 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Silver Seven Sens, The 6th Sens

Tonight concludes four of five of the Tampa Bay Lightning's final road games of the 2015 NHL regular season. The next three games only come after a few days off which is something a club of wounded soldiers could use. In fact, there's only one game in a week of time after tonight; Saturday's game in Sunrise against the Florida Panthers. The season conclusion takes place at the Amalie with games next Thursday and Saturday against the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins.

First thing first though, and that's tonight's scrimmage against the Ottawa Senators and their meat extractor supreme, the Hamblurglar himself, Andrew Hammond. Hammond's effort (along with the team in front of him) turned the Senators from also-ran pretenders into one of the hottest teams in the NHL's second half. His record and stats paint the picture quite fittingly: 15-1-1 in 18 games (17 of them starts), a 1.85 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage with 2 shutouts. While many hockey media people (the newspaper set, the TV punditry and bloggers alike) will crow about Carey Price being a Vezina and Hart Trophy winner in waiting, it's the efforts by the likes of Hammond and the Minnesota Wild's Devan Dubynk (34 games in Minnesota, a 24-6-1 record, a 1.70 GAA and a .939 save percentage with 5 shutouts) that really pushes on the concept of being Most Valuable around the league.

Would Montreal be a contender without Price? They likely wouldn't be in 1st place in the Atlantic Division, but they're a talent stocked club that could go places with another netminder. Could Minnesota be vying for the #3 seed in the Central Division without Dubynk? Minnesota was out of contention and in last place in the division before Dubynk was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes. Would the Ottawa Senators be anywhere, let alone contending for a playoff spot, without Andrew Hammond's impressive stint in goal? Neither goalie has made the bulk of starts in net that Carey Price has made, but carrying his team in the same fashion and giving them any sort of prayer?

Agree or disagree, Hammond has put Ottawa on the cusp of the playoffs (though the chances to clinch a wild card spot are counting down to a precious few) and he will be starting in net for the Sens tonight.

As for the walking wounded with the Bolts, Tyler Johnson took line rushes with his TKO partners during the morning skate but Coach Jon Cooper said he (as well as defenseman Victor Hedman) is out tonight and likely Saturday in Sunrise as well. This should keep the Lightning forward line combos from Monday in place as they were on Tuesday in Toronto.

Slater Koekkoek remains on the Lightning roster because Hedman remains out.  The fact the Bolts are playing in his hometown and he's still in the lineup is also a bit of a reward for his great reward for his effort in Syracuse this season.

The Senators are led in scoring by defenseman Erik Karlsson who has 62 points on the season (20 goals, 42 assists). Kyle Turris is the Sens top point-producing forward (55 points on the season, 22 goals, 33 assists). Both clubs have 12 players who've amassed more than 20 points on the season.

Ben Bishop starts again in net for the Lightning which will be his 57th game start of the season. Bishop is 37-13-4 with a 2.37 GAA and a .913 save percentage on the season. Is it still a wise idea to have Bishop doing the workload starting in net instead of giving a start-worthy backup (Andrei Vasilevskiy) more time in net? Yes, you want to go into the playoffs on a high note, but you also want a rested netminder instead of an injured one. Then again, as was noted, the Bolts have only one more game for a week coming up... Bishop and the rest of the roster will be seeing a good bit of rest and given time to mend.

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