One to nothing, that's how the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks fared against each other back in October. One goal, not even scored in regulation. The team that was shut out had played the night before. The losing starting netminder is in the AHL and while he's been recalled a few times since the October 21, 2015 game, he has not seen playing time at the NHL level since. This is despite putting up a completely sound performance with a taxed team in front of him: 32 shots against, 31 saves, a .969 save percentage with the lone goal coming after regulation had expired.
Three months ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning was in Chicago and fell by way of Jonathan Toews overtime goal on Kristers Gudlevskis 17 seconds in to overtime play. This had been an understated rematch game to begin with that the NHL just put at an inconvenient place for the Lightning (who played the Winnipeg Jets in Winnipeg the night before).
And now? Now it's conveniently not on national TV broadcast spotlight (again) while the two clubs square off with an even number of wins in-a-row (6 is a fluke, 7's a streak for the Lightning while 12 in-a-row is a franchise record for the Hawks). The Bolts are in a tight race in the Eastern Conference and in a tie for second place in the Atlantic Division (but holding the position officially by way of having more wins than the Detroit Red Wings). The Blackhawks have overtaken the Dallas Stars as Central Division leaders, having 68 points, a 32-13-4 record.
Tampa Bay has three games in-hand on the Blackhawks (46 as to 49 games played) but an ominous stat that stresses the challenge of tonight's match for the Lightning is the goals for-against aspect. The Hawks have scored 144 goals and allowed 111 in those 49 games played. The big goal differential wouldn't be unsettling if the Lightning themselves hadn't allowed 111 goals in that three-less-games span. Individual players can be highlighted for their feats of strength for both clubs -- Patrick Kane leads the Hawks and the league in scoring with 30 goals and 41 assists for 71 points and four other Chicago players have 30 points or more this season -- but it's the overall team performance that success or failure is driven from.
It was an optional skate this morning for the Tampa Bay Lightning, 14 players and both goalies participated and Jonathan Marchessault was among them. The Marshmallow Man has been a healthy scratch the past few games in favor of Erik Condra. There's no telling if Marchessault will be in the lineup for the Lightning tonight, or Condra for that matter - Matthew Carle was also part of the optional skate. The potential is there that the Bolts opt for an 11 forward / 7 defenseman scheme against Chicago tonight, but that's not guaranteed.
Corey Crawford has been confirmed as the starting goalie for the Hawks. Crawford's numbers are quite impressive this season: a .931 save percentage, a 2.11 goals-against average and 6 shutouts to go with his 27-10-2 record. They reflect well on the overall performance of the Blackhawks. At the other end of the ice, no one has been confirmed as of this writing as the starter but you'd have to think it's Ben Bishop between the pipes. Andrei Vasilevskiy has started two of the past three games but has not been consistent in the crease. Bishop, for the season, has 35 game appearances (with 34 being starts) with an 18-13-0 record. That number isn't as snazzy as his wowzer 1.97 GAA and sound .927 sav% with two shutouts.
If the story from the crease holds steady, this could be another game that ends 1-0 in overtime or in the shootout. If one team stumbles, even by a fraction of a degree, there could end up being a lopsided final score.
No matter what, though someone's
streak fluke length increases with the final horn tonight.