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Winnipeg Jets at Tampa Bay Lightning Preview: Preparing for takeoff

Bolts are 11-5-2 at home this season

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Winnipeg Jets (17-19-3) at Tampa Bay Lightning (19-15-4) GAME 39

Time: 7:30pm EST

Location: Amalie Arena, Tampa

Broadcast/Streaming: Sun, TSN3

Opponent SB Nation Site: Arctic Ice Hockey

Previous Game Musings:

I attended the Carolina game on Saturday, and what a pleasant surprise it was. The first period was one of the best I’ve seen the Lightning play this season. They out-skated, outfought, and outshot Carolina enroute to a 2-0 lead.

My enthusiasm briefly came tumbling down in the second when Carolina essentially did whatever they pleased, consistently getting behind the Lightning defense. If not for Vasilevskiy making some great saves, this game could’ve gotten out of hand very quickly. The third period was much better from the Bolts. They controlled play for large stretches and managed to negate some good scoring chances from the Hurricanes.

I know it’s been said before, but the Canes did a real classy thing at the end of the game by putting in their emergency backup goaltender, Jorge Alves, (who is also their equipment manager) into the game so he could fulfill a lifelong dream, playing in the NHL. It was an awesome sight to see and something I wish a lot more people in the arena were aware of. Great job Carolina, that was just awesome. Moving on, though…

Preview

Winnipeg is in town today, and with that comes the Patrik Laine show. Laine has had a great season for the Jets so far. He is second in the rookie scoring race with 31 points (just one point behind Auston Matthews) and second in goals with 19 (also, one behind Matthews). It’s great that the NHL has such phenomenal young players coming up with this much talent. I know I’ve only named two here, but there are a plethora of young players in the NHL who are going to make this league unbelievably entertaining for years to come.

Winnipeg currently has 37 points in 39 games and is 3 points out of a wildcard spot. It’s highly unlikely they will crawl back into the division race, barring a hot streak from them and a collapse from Minnesota, St. Louis, or Chicago. They’re currently 8 points behind St. Louis for 3rd in the central and St. Louis has a game in hand. I just don’t see it happening with a team that has a -14-goal differential.

Side note: Minnesota is one point behind Chicago for the Central Division lead and has 4 games in hand. Holy crap.

Tampa Bay, on the other hand, is two points behind Boston for 3rd in the division and has a game in hand. The Bolts have done extremely well during this homestand, gaining five out of a possible six points so far. The Lightning have look rejuvenated with a collection of players returning from injury and are finally playing the kind of defense that is needed to battle for a playoff spot. WE ARE STILL IN THE FIGHT, BOLTS FANS!

Winnipeg’s last 10 games show a team battling for consistency. They’ve gone 4-6-0 and have lost two straight coming into tonight’s matchup. They’re also 7-11-2 on the road this season, while the Bolts are 11-5-2 at home. As stated earlier, the negative goal differential does not bode well for the Jets, however, this is not a team to underestimate. The Jets have scored 103 goals this season to the Lightning’s 109. This team has had issues on defense and goaltending (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?), but definitely has the offensive firepower to bury teams; getting into a gunfight with this team isn’t the smartest idea.

Given how both teams have played recently I’m leaning towards a Lightning victory. Especially if we get the same kind of effort from Saturday. Ryan Callahan could possibly be in the lineup, and hopefully Adam Erne will make his season debut.

We’re hitting game four of this five-game homestand and the Lightning have put themselves in a good position moving forward. The long road trip in the middle of January is going to be a big test, one the Lightning can’t afford to flounder.

Another win tonight only builds more confidence for Nashville on Thursday. That confidence and momentum will carry over to Saturday in Philadelphia and so on. It was at this point last season when the Lightning won 21 of 27 to surge their way into the playoffs. They can do it again.

Preview Chart

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Jonathan Drouin - Valtteri Filppula - Ryan Callahan

Matthew Peca - Vladislav Namestnikov - Alex Killorn

JT Brown - Michael Bournival - Adam Erne

Yanni Gourde

Defense Pairings

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman

Jason Garrison - Andrej Sustr

Braydon Coburn - Slater Koekkoek

Nikita Nesterov

Goalies

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Kristers Gudlevskis

Winnipeg Jets

Forward Lines

Nikolaj Ehler - Mark Schiefele - Patrik Laine

Mathieu Perreault - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler

Andrew Copp - Nicolas Petan - Drew Stafford

Shawn Matthias - Adam Lowry - Joel Armia

Defense Pairings

Josh Morrissey - Dustin Byufglien

Tobias Enstrom - Jacob Trouba

Ben Chiarot - Paul Postma

Goalies

Connor Hellebuyck

Michael Hutchinson

Lines will be updated after morning skate.