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Tampa Bay Lightning at Dallas Stars: The Stars have to start winning at some point, right?

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The Lightning head back to Dallas after their brief one-game road trip there last week.

NHL: MAR 16 Lightning at Stars Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tampa Bay Lightning at Dallas Stars: GAME 32

Time: 8:30 pm Eastern Time

Location: American Airlines Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: ESPN+, Fox SUN. FS-SW

Opponent SBNation Site: Defending Big D

A week ago, in this very arena, the Tampa Bay Lightning started their most recent winning streak. They defeated the Dallas Stars, 4-3, in a shootout and haven’t lost since then, ripping off four wins in a row which allowed them to move back into first place in the Central Division by three points over Carolina and four over Florida. It’s the closest thing they’ve had to breathing room in weeks.

On the other side of the ice, Dallas is still in a race for the fourth playoff spot in the division despite losing three of four over the last week. They did manage to pick up points in three of the games with a win over Detroit and shootout losses to the Lightning and Predators. Despite trailing Chicago by five points for that final spot in the postseason, the Stars do still have four games in hand against the ‘Hawks (as well as four in hand against Nashville and five against Columbus).

The only problem for Dallas is that those games in hand do them no good if they don’t win them, and that could prove to be a challenge against the Lightning, even if the Bolts are short a defenseman in Ryan McDonagh.

Dallas is kind of treading water at this point. They have picked up 12 of 22 points over an 11-game stretch, but it felt like they left points on the table as they’ve struggled to close out game. In their last game, a shootout loss to Nashville, they had a 3-1 lead midway through the game and couldn’t hold onto it. Their inability to finish out games has cost them according to their head coach Rick Bowness,

“Have we lost points because of our inability to finish? I think it comes right down to that. We could be four or five points better, easily. But we are where we are.”

The season been a bit of an enigma for the Stars this season as the underlying stats seem to indicate they should be doing better than they are. According to Natural Stat Trick, at 5v5 they have an expected goal share of 54.18%, third in the NHL. They’ve also done a good job of limiting shot attempts against, with opponents only averaging 48.16 per 60 minutes of play, second in the league (and just ahead of the Lightning’s 49.35).

They are middle of the pack in special teams play (17th in penalty kill, 14th in power play) and their offense isn’t the best (19th in goals for per game at 2.82), but they’re Dallas, never exactly known for lighting up the scoreboard. So they should most likely have a better record than the current 10-10-8 one they’re sporting, and if this was a regular length season they could probably play their way out of the funk they’re in.

Unfortunately, in a shortened season, as Yogi Berra is credited with saying, “it gets late early out there”. Now midway through their season they have one of the toughest schedules remaining in the division, including five games against the Lightning. They’re going to have to kick in gear soon if they want to make a serious push for the playoffs or they may simply run out of games.

The injury bug has bitten them a bit more than other teams with Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop missing the entire season so far and Alexander Radulov returning after missing 15 games, playing a couple, and then missing a few more. Role players like Roope Hintz, Andrew Cogliano, and Blake Comeau have also missed time recently. Dallas fans have to think that if they could ever ice their full roster, things would change in a hurry.

Speaking of full rosters, the Lightning’s is a bit of a mystery as well heading into the game. As of publication, there was still no update on his status for the game or any corresponding roster moves related to the defense. Granted, if Andreas Borgman was going to be activated off of the taxi squad, the Lightning would likely do it the day of the game, so keep an eye out for that.

If McDonagh is out, that will likely mean more ice time for Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev (and less time on the right side of the ice for Sergy). To have two of their more dynamic defensemen on the ice isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Bolts, but managing their minutes during this stretch of playing every other day is something Coach Cooper and Rob Zettler (who handles the defense) need to keep an eye on.

Up front, if the Bolts go with a 12/6 rotation, expect Ross Colton to slot back in. The rookie has played in Tampa Bay’s last four games and hasn’t given the coaching staff a reason to take him out of the line-up. He has averaged 10:33 of ice time, recorded a goal, added two assists, and has a 55.43% XGF%. Pretty much what you want out of a fourth-line center.

This is the first of a three-game road trip that the Lightning are embarking on. Two games in Dallas followed by one in Carolina before they finally get two days off in a row before their next homestand. By the time they return home on Sunday, they will have played eight games in fourteen days, including two back-to-backs. While they are undoubtedly a little worn down at this point, they have to make sure they don’t take Dallas too lightly because of their success against them so far this season (3-0). Tampa Bay still isn’t in a spot in the standings where they can afford to give points away.

Tampa Bay Lightning Lines

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Anthony Cirelli

Alex Killorn - Yanni Gourde - Steven Stamkos

Barclay Goodrow - Tyler Johnson - Blake Coleman

Pat Maroon - Ross Colton - Mathieu Joseph

Defense

Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta

Mikhail Sergachev - Erik Cernak

Andreas Borgman - Cal Foote

Ryan McDonagh - injured?

Goalies

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Curtis McElhinney

Dallas Stars Lines

Forwards

Jamie Benn - Joe Pavelski - Ty Dellandrea

Jason Robertson - Roope Hintz - Denis Gurianov

Andrew Cogliano - Jason Dickinson - Blake Comeau

Tanner Kero - Radek Faska - Joel L’Esperance

Defense

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg

Jamie Oleksiak - Miro Heiskanen

Joel Hanley - Andrej Sekera

Goaltenders

Anton Khudobin

Jake Oettinger

Lines based on projections from dailyfaceoff.com. If they change, we will update.

*Update - it will be Khudobin in net per Rick Bowness

*Lines updated following morning skate, Kiviranta, Hintz, Radulov, and Faska are all game-time decisions.