Expect a hunt, not an easy flight; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Anaheim Ducks preview

Expectations don't do a thing when the games have to be played, and the games are a challenge and not a given victory.

Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida | When: 7 PM EST
Radio: 970 AM WFLA | Television: Sun Sports FS Florida Sun | Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Anaheim Calling

Big win on Thursday for the Lightning, huh? Sweep it under the rug, it's a positive but it happened. It's done and irrelevant besides the morale boost that it provides for fans and in the locker room. The team is capable of taking down titans and playing like one even in the face of adversity.

Yet the whole mentality going into Thursday night's game was part of the key how the Lightning won that game - they came into it knowing the chips were stacked against them. The Rangers were flying high, the Lightning were hurting and key roster players were missing. What was your mentality going into that game? Hope for the best, expect the worst perhaps? Underdog status for Tampa Bay?

Playing as the underdog, as the lesser team, is exactly what stoked the fight in the Lightning and should have made the game fun again to watch, not this "Cup or Bust" crap that's been hanging over everyone's head since before the preseason; "everyone's" being the players, the coaches, and the fans.

Expectations of champion glory overlooked the fact that games have to be played and there's adversity to overcome including solid competition from opponents, injuries to key players and just plain bad luck. The greatest freedom you can take is remembering that challenges need to be overcome to earn a win and while a loss isn't something to appreciate, the game itself can be entertaining to behold; a solid exhibition of the sport at its finest. Unless they get blown out, then it's just raw foulness.

Going into Saturday night's game at the Amalie, the same regulars from the lineup - Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Cedric Paquette - are out. Ryan Callahan is questionable for tonight. The three days after tonight where the Bolts aren't in competition is going to be sweet for the healing process.

But a game preview is about the team you're facing more than your own club, ain't it? The Anaheim Ducks are in town and they're a long way from the putrid state they were in to start the season (which put coach Bruce Boudreau on the hot seat). Anaheim is 6-2-2 in their past 10 games and 6 points behind the Los Angeles Kings who lead the Pacific Division (and who happen to be the Lightning's opponents in their next contest on Wednesday). Corey Perry is leading Anaheim (like usual) in the scoring department with 5 goals and 7 assists and while he's the only Duck in double-digits in the points department, I can't help but look at stats and think the clubs are evenly matched... especially in the goalie department.

The power plays are close to each other though the Bolts hold the advantage over the Ducks by a few percentage points (ranked 21st, Tampa Bay converts on 17.2% of power plays, while the Ducks are ranked 24th with a 15.6% efficiency). The picture changes on the penalty kill though, where Anaheim is dominant to the point it leads the NHL: a 90.3 kill-rate. That's a sight better than the Lightning's 81% effectiveness at stopping opposition (ranked 14th). Anaheim and the Lightning do have one thing in common on the PK - a lone short-handed goal scored.

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