The Rock and a hard place; Lightning at New Jersey Devils preview

WHERE: Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 620 WDAE (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: In Lou We Trust, Fire and Ice, Running With the Devils

Just five days ago, I was wondering if the Lightning could pull off a win against the New Jersey Devils.

Yeah, that happened. It still doesn't change the fact the Devils are that damn good since their current run began on January 9th: 17-2-2, winners of four straight at home. Now lets factor in another interesting rub: Martin Brodeur is back from a knee injury. Yes, he has not been the same Martin Brodeur this season as the name standard makes you expect, but he's still the goalie on record as having beaten the Bolts twice this season for the Devils.

From a Tampa Bay angle, there's more to be wary about... If not directly about tonight, then in general. You see, this is the first of back-to-back games for the Lightning. They fly to Boston after the game to take on the Bruins tomorrow night at TD Garden. And then? They fly back to Tampa for a game against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday Night at Times Palace.

That's two playoff-bound teams on the schedule for the next three-games, plus the Devils who are playing like nobody's business since January 9th. The schedule is not going to be doing the Lightning any favors during the stretch run of the season.

John Fischer at In Lou We Trust cited line match-ups and the Devils combating the Bolts 2nd and 3rd lines as a key to victory for the Devils. It brings up an interesting and an unappreciated aspect for the Lightning right now, an aspect that's under-reported or just not directly acknowledged: The team has two scoring lines, with a third chipping in when necessary.

The focus is often on Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis when trying to stop the Lightning offense. You hear about Stammer and Marty in the media all the time... But what is underplayed (though I've mentioned it several times in recent previews) is the threat from the line of Simon Gagne - Vincent Lecavalier - Teddy Purcell. Since January 20th, 2011, Gagne-Vinny-Teddy have scored 19 goals as compared to the Steve Downie - Steven Stamkos - Martin St. Louis line's 16 goals over that span. The point production between the two lines is practically the same as well: 42 points for the Stamkos centered line as compared to 41 points from the Lecavalier centered line.

At this point in time, opponents are looking at Tampa Bay's forward lines and need to choose who to suffer fools against -- do you play your top defensive line against the Stamkos line, or against Lecavalier's?

Dwayne Roloson is expected to start in net for the Lightning tonight, Mike Smith may very well get the nod tomorrow night in Boston. It makes Roloson available for Saturday against the Habs with enough rest between now and then... Then again? It's possible Roloson starts the next two games. We'll see.

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