Lightning vs. Coyotes game day preview [UPDATED]

WHERE: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 620 WDAE (radio)

The Bolts square off against another formidable divisional force tonight, one that has taken the league by surprise because of the summer drama tied to the franchise. It's the Phoenix Coyotes.

It's a scheduling anomaly rematch between the two clubs, who already faced off once this season, played in Glendale with the Lightning winning that one 4-1, and the Coyotes own fortunes can appear to be an anomaly as well. The team has 89 points after their dreadful Blackberry-inspired drama. Ice Edge Holdings still has not finalized the purchase of the team from the NHL, though they did recently send out a letter to re-assure fans it would happen...

Oh, and Dave Tippett should win the Jack Adams, hands down.  89 points achieved for the first-year coach, with all the drama and sideshow tied to the team...  The only way he shouldn't be the top candidate for the coach-of-the-year award is in teh tin-foil-hat community who sees it as a NHL-owned-franchise-Employee-of-the-year award instead of awarding the truly best coach.

Back in Tampa, Steven Stamkos has a back contusion and will be a game-time decision for tonight's must-win contest. Yes, must-win. Though some might find it depressing, the Bolts have to make showing nightly for the remainder of the season. It's not enough to simply keep pace in the east any more. The Lightning need to make up four points between them and the Boston Bruins... That or be surpassed by the likes of the Thrashers, Panthers or even the resurgent Carolina Hurricanes.

Phoenix has the worst power play in the NHL (Ok, make that two drawbacks to Dave Tippet being named coach-of-the-year), converting on only 15.1% of their opportunities. 16.5% on the road (good for 15th in the league). Of course, the Bolts were recently tripped up by another club that had a weak power play in the Toronto Maple Leafs... so percentages mean only so much.

There's no word yet on the starter for tonight's matchup, I'm guessing the Bolts will tempt fate and give Mike Smith a try.

For those attending tonight's game, there are plenty of festivities planned to mark St. Patricks Day at Times Palace.

[Note by John Fontana, 03/16/10 3:13 PM EDT ] The team announced via a press-release that LW Ryan Malone has undergone a minor arthroscopic procedure today on his left knee. He will be out for 10 to 14 days while recovering from the procedure.

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