Celebration or the spoiler? Tampa Bay Lightning versus St. Louis Blues preview

WHERE: Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
WHEN: 7 PM EDT | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 970 WFLA (radio)

The St. Louis Blues come into Times Palace tonight on the cusp of clinching a berth in the West for the 2012 NHL playoffs. From the mediocre beginnings of the season, the Blues now are leading not only the Western Conference but the race for the President's Trophy, with 98 points. That's 3 points better than the New York Rangers in the Eastern conference.

And they're doing it with defense. The Blues don't just limit opponents, they starve them. Opposing teams are scoring all of 1.86 goals per game against the Blues with an on-average shot total of just over 26 per game. Blues goalie Brian Elliot leads the NHL in save percentage (.937) and goals against average (1.62). And who is in second place with a 1.82 GAA? Jaroslav Halak, Elliot's teammate and the Blues #1 goalie.

That's one hell of a tandem.

With great defense is making up for less offense, though. While the Bolts can brag about the potency of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Teddy Purcell, Ryan Malone, and injured Captain Vincent Lecavalier, the Blues offense leaves something to be desired:... When your leading scorers have 48 points on the season (as T.J. Oshie and David Backes do) and the team's top goal-scorer (Backes) has 21... Well, it leaves something to be desired.

It may be desired, but it's not truly a necessity. 98 points and on the cusp of clinching the playoffs says so.

Nate Thompson is out of the lineup tonight for the Lightning. It's another injury for a roster that has battled through pain all season long. Damian Cristodero has an article up today on Tampabay.com that notes the Bolts have lost 233 man-games to injury this season (...so far):

Tampa Bay has lost 233 man games to injury, 12th worst in the league. It is the team's second-worst season in that regard since 2002-03, surpassed by the 351 games lost in 2008-09.

It doesn't mean the Bolts are going to stop playing games; it's just that the team is hurting, and has hurt real good over and over again all season long.

With Thompson out of the lineup, the Bolts have recalled Trevor Smith from the vying-for-history Norfolk Admirals. Norfolk has won 17 games in a row - tying an American Hockey League record. They decimated the Charlotte Checkers last night in Charlotte, 7-2, and they'll take a stab at history tomorrow against that same Checkers team. 17 in a row is a fluke... But 18? 18's history.

Dwayne Roloson starts in net tonight for the Lightning. Steven Stamkos goes for his own history - tying his career-high mark in goals-scored (51), and the Bolts will do what they can to stave off St. Louis' playoff celebration or another game.

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