Preview: Blues at Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning are beginning to resemble the team that matched an NHL record with 62 wins last season and their form will be severely tested over the next two games, starting with a matchup against the visiting St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night. The Lightning, who visit Washington on Friday, have won three in a row and six of their last eight contests after knocking off Buffalo 5-2 on Monday.
“We’re definitely getting more consistent,” Tampa Bay defenseman Ryan McDonagh told reporters. “There’s a lot of hockey left to be played, but I think our group’s realizing what it takes as far as effort level and execution level. We know we’re going to get every team’s best no matter where we’re at, home or away, and our group is really committed to trying to play as consistent as we can here in all areas.” One of the losses during the Lightning’s resurgence came at reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis on Nov. 19 and the Blues have won the last three meetings, including a 1-0 overtime triumph in Tampa Bay last season. The Blues have cooled off a bit since their season-high seven-game winning streak that started in late October, losing five of the last seven contests (2-2-3) after Monday’s 3-2 shootout setback at Nashville. “I thought we battled back hard,” St. Louis coach Craig Berube told reporters after the loss. “. … I thought our guys competed, we had a good third period. We were on our heels a little in overtime. It’s a good point.”
TV: 7 p.m. ET, FS Midwest (St. Louis), FS Sun (Tampa Bay)
ABOUT THE BLUES (14-5-6): Left wing David Perron leads the team with 23 points after recording three goals and an assist during his four-game point streak while Brayden Schenn (22 points) has also made the scoresheet in four straight contests. With regular forwards Vladimir Tarasenko, Sammy Blais and Alexander Steen out because of injuries, others must step up and 20-year-old Robert Thomas has done so by producing five assists and plus-5 rating in his last four games. Jordan Binnington (11-4-4, 2.23 goals-against average, .926 save percentage) stopped 17 of the 18 shots he faced to beat Tampa Bay last week and boasts a .960 SP over his past three starts.
ABOUT THE LIGHTNING (12-7-2): Left wing Ondrej Palat has already matched his goal output from a disappointing 2018-19 season after scoring once and setting up two others Monday. “It’s his skating,” coach Jon Cooper told reporters. “Whatever he did in the summer, he had to gain a step, and he has. He’s got the grit, the physicality, all that, but he’s picked up a step and it’s worked well for him. This is as good as I’ve seen him play.” While captain Steven Stamkos could miss his second straight game with a lower-body injury, right wing Nikita Kucherov (team-high 21 points) has scored in back-to-back games after sitting out one contest due to a big hit from Schenn last week.
1. St. Louis veteran RW Troy Brouwer had one hit in 9 minutes, 1 second of ice time during his debut with the team Monday
2. Tampa Bay D Erik Cernak was suspended two games for his elbow to Buffalo D Rasmus Dahlin's head in Monday’s game.
3. Blues D Robert Bortuzzo will serve the second contest of a four-game suspension for his illegal cross-check on Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson.
PREDICTION: Lightning 3, Blues 2