Winnipeg Jets vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Tuesday, March 5, 7:30 p.m. Season Series: Winnipeg Leads 1-0
Minnesota Wild vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday, March 7, 7:30 p.m. Season Series: Minnesota Leads 1-0 Detroit Red Wings vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday, March 9, 7 p.m. Season Series: Tampa Leads 2-0
The Tampa Bay Lightning sailed through the month of February with only one loss in regulation, cementing their lead atop the NHL’s standings.
That lone loss came at the hands of the Boston Bruins, ending the Bolt’s 10-game unbeaten streak. Despite that setback, Tampa regrouped for a 5-1 win at home against Ottawa, becoming the fastest team to reach 100 points in a season since the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings.
“I liked our mentality [against Ottawa],” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “It was something we didn’t have [against Boston]. You get to come home and you are a little more comfortable here…. I think guys were a little more determined after what happened [in Boston].”
That same attitude will have to be on display at Amalie Arena when the Lightning welcome one of the toughest teams in the Western Conference – the Winnipeg Jets – on Tuesday, followed by clashes with Minnesota Thursday and Detroit Saturday night. The Lightning will have revenge on their minds after losing to both Winnipeg and Minnesota in overtime earlier this year.
About the Lightning:
Who’s Hot: After registering 25 points (8 goals, 17 assists) in 25 games, Nikita Kucherov was named the NHL’s First Star for the month of February. Kucherov’s month included a streak of multiple points on five straight games, which helped him reach 100-point mark against Buffalo on Feb. 21. Kucherov accomplished that feat in 62 games, becoming the fastest player to reach 100 points since Mario Lemieux reached the century mark in 61 games during the 1996-97 season. Kucherov enters the week only two points shy of tying Vincent Lacavalier’s team record of 108 points in a season. The right-winger is looking to shatter that mark and is on a pace for 130 points this season.
Who’s Not: The Lightning were pushed to the limit by some unexpected teams the last couple of weeks. The Sabres, Kings and Rangers are out of the playoff hunt – with Buffalo possibly being an exception – but all three took the Lightning to extra sessions. Tampa defeated the Sabres 2-1 and Kings 4-3 in shootouts before capturing a 4-3 overtime win against the Rangers.
About the Jets:
Winnipeg has been in a battle with the Nashville Predators for the top spot in the NHL’s Central Division all season. With a one-point lead over the Predators, Winnipeg has very little room for error if it wants home ice advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The Jets have been finding the back of their opponent’s net with regularity, averaging 4.75 goals in their eight wins since the beginning of February. However, in their nine losses in that stretch, the Jets have averaged only 1.88 goals per game.
Winnipeg comes into Tampa on a two-game winning streak, pulling off a comeback win in Nashville last Thursday before defeating Columbus on the road Saturday night.
Blake Wheeler, who scored four goals in the win against Columbus, has been known more for his assists this season. His 63 assists rank second in the league to Kucherov’s 75. His 80 points has him tied with Braden Pont for ninth in the league for points.
About the Wild:
Minnesota comes into the week locked in battle for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. The Wild have won five of six games, which has allowed the team to plant itself in the Western Conference playoff picture, holding down the final wild card spot in the conference.
Four of those wins have come against teams that currently hold a playoff spot.
Minnesota will look much different than the team the Lightning played in the first month of the season after acquiring six new players at the NHL Trade Deadline.
Kevin Fiala is one of those new faces and is still trying to find his stride with the Wild. The former Nashville winger posted 32 points for the Predators but has yet to scratch the scoring sheet in his first three games with the Wild.
Two faces that didn’t go anywhere at the trade deadline were Zach Parisse and Erik Staal. The Minnesota duo has combined for 99 points this season and rank as two of the team’s top scorers on the power play.
About the Red Wings:
If the Red Wings wish to stop their 13-game regular season losing streak to the Lightning they will need a goal-scoring effort much like the one they put forth in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Lightning earlier this season in Detroit.
Frans Nielson led the offense for Detroit in that contest, putting three pucks by goalie Edward Pasquale, who was making his NHL debut, for his second career hat trick. That wasn’t quite enough though as Tampa rallied from a two-goal deficit in the third period to force the extra session and eventually capture a win that Nikita Kucherov polished off with a shootout goal.
Detroit still finds itself in a rebuilding mode and will miss the NHL Playoffs once again this season. The Red Wings have accumulated 55 points this season, which is the second lowest point total in the NHL.
Dylan Larkin leads the team in goals (27), assists (35) and points (52), coming into the week with points in four of his last five games.
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Some tough contests lie ahead for Tampa with match-ups on the road next week at Toronto (March 11) and Detroit (March 14) before a home contest with defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington (March 16).
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