Red-hot Bolts head to Chicago
LIGHTNING (43-24-11) at BLACKHAWKS (42-27-8)
-- NHLN, RDS, WGN.
-- Tampa Bay 5-2-3, Chicago 5-3-2.
-- It's a pair of intra-conference meetings for these teams, the first one at St. Pete Times Forum on Mar. 9 went to the Bolts 4-3 in a shootout. That was the one when Martin St. Louis used a spin-o-rama move to score the shootout winner and stop a four-game slide.
-- While the Lightning have a playoff spot locked down, their four-game winning streak has brought them back within striking distance of the Capitals for the Southeast Division title, something that looked all but sewn up a month ago, but a mediocre March handed the lead to the Caps. The Blackhawks are over the playoff line in the eighth seed and still have a chance to rise as high as fourth, but a pesky Flames team remains a mere three points behind.
-- They're looking like the playoff team they are, but what impressed coach Guy Boucher most Saturday afternoon against the Wild is how his players are talking the talk as well, demanding accountability from each other on the bench.
"That's maturity," Boucher said in the St. Petersburg Times. "When it's the players who enforce what you're telling them, it means guys are buying in."
They turned it up a notch as a desperate Wild team fought to stave off elimination, holding on for a 3-1 win and the end of Minnesota's playoff hopes. Tampa Bay's aspirations for home ice in the first round improved, however, as they drew within a point of the fourth-seeded Penguins.
-- They'll take the points, but the Hawks will be first to admit they were a little lucky coming out of Columbus with a 4-3 shootout win on Friday, after taking some bad penalties that allowed the Jackets to come back from a 2-0 deficit and even take a third-period lead before Bryan Bickell
forced overtime with 5:03 left.
"I don't even know if we deserved to win. We tried real hard to not win that game," Troy Brouwer
said to CSNChicago.com. "If we tighten up our game, stop taking penalties, we'll have no problem making the playoffs. But we need to do those things."
-- St. Louis has scored in three straight games, tying his season best so far, and reached 30 goals for the sixth straight season in the win against Pittsburgh. Simon Gagne has four goals and three assists in his last four games, and Steven Stamkos has bounced back from a five-game scoring slump with points in back-to-back games. Bickell's goal was his first since joining up with Jonathan Toews
and Patrick Kane
on the Hawks' top line. All three players were plus-2 on the night. Defenseman Duncan Keith
was the ironman Friday with 31:07 of ice time, 4:58 of which came on the penalty kill.
-- Bolts defenseman Randy Jones remains out indefinitely after suffering a high ankle sprain Mar. 7. He is not expected back until after the playoffs begin. Patrick Sharp
has been working off-ice with his injured left knee and will be re-evaluated Sunday for a possible return to the ice sometime next week. Forward Dave Bolland
(concussion) has not yet returned to the ice and is making "slow progress" according to coach Joel Quenneville.
-- Friday marked the 22nd straight start for goalie Corey Crawford
, who was also in nets in the teams' last meeting. It was the first time he had ever faced the Lightning. Meanwhile, Dwayne Roloson has played 24 games against Tampa Bay and has a 13-7-0 career record with a 2.59 goals-against average. The Blackhawks are 59-8-10 in games in which Kane has two points or more. He also is one point away from 300 for his career, racking up 299 in 312 NHL games so far.
-- "We're going to keep ourselves in games with our offensive ability. But we have to make sure keeping ourselves in games doesn't mean we're in games 6-5 or 5-4. … You want to cut down on scoring chances against. Whenever we do that, we're able to win." -- Brouwer in the Chicago Tribune on the need to keep up defensive pressure as games get tighter in the final week