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A home stint, a playoff stand; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Nashville Predators preview

The playoff race tightens with the Lightning's recent losses. Can they rebound? Can the Predators solidify their position as wild card holders? That's tonight's game in a nutshell.

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida | When: 7:30 PM EST
Radio: 970 AM WFLA | Television: FS Florida Sun | Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: On the Forecheck

By February 20th, when the Tampa Bay Lightning start another back-to-back road trip (this time to Pittsburgh and Raleigh) the club will have played 11 games at home and 3 on the road. There's a contradiction at play here as the rallying point and worrying point is the polar opposite results of the past 10 games: All games at home have been victories while all games on the road (in Sunrise, Ottawa, and Montreal) have been defeats. It's uncomfortable to think of the Bolts struggling against troubled teams on the road, and with the tightness of the Eastern Conference standings - there isn't room for gaffes or surges-to-slips.

Case in point: The Lightning are now in wild card position, only a single point over the #8 seed Pittsburgh Penguins (as well as the just-outside-the-fray New Jersey Devils). The Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings have both leapfrogged Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division standings and the Montreal Canadiens (with thanks to the loss the Lightning suffered on Tuesday) are only 3 points out of direct wild card contention and 4 points behind the Lightning in the Atlantic.

That makes you feel real comfortable, don't it? Add the Jason Garrison injury and a degree of security seems to have disappeared. It's funny in a way; just a week ago fans saw and knew the corner had been turned and all things were righted. Tampa Bay was forging ahead and... and— and the club tripped.

Four games at the Amalie for the next week, and all against Western Conference teams. Three against Central Division clubs starting tonight with the Nashville Predators. The Lightning will also square off with the St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks and Winnipeg Jets.

The Predators are in the #8 seed of the Western Conference at the moment with 58 points in 54 games played (25-21-8), that is 2 points in front of the Minnesota Wild and 2 points behind #7 seed Colorado. It gives Nashville a chance to tie and overtake Colorado. Heck, most every trailing team in the Western Conference (with a few exceptions; I'm looking at you Edmonton). And seeing Nashville likely can't catch up to ahead-by-11-points St. Louis in the Central Division, It puts a greater importance on maintaining their wild card status.

It'll be Ben Bishop in net off the Lightning and Pekka Rinne in net for Nashville. Rinne's numbers are unbecoming of Pekka Rinne, so that can be seen as a reason why the Predators are simply in wild card standing at the moment. A .903 save percentage is very un-Rinne, as is the 2.54 goals-against average. Tonight will be his 46th appearance in net for the Preds on the season; he's 20-18-6.

Bishop's numbers have gone in the wrong direction but they're still a strength: 2.07 GAA with a .924 save percentage. They can change back to the near-flat 2 with a sound effort by the club in front of him and a sound performance in the crease.

Valtteri Filppula has the flu and Ondrej Palat had a body-maintenance day. Filp being sick could lead to a lineup shift that doesn't have to be done very often - someone else playing center where Filppula usually would be. It's also Ryan Callahan's 600th game played in the NHL; he's been on Filp's wing the past few weeks.

Another note is forward Jonathan Marchessault has changed his player number to 81.

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