Gagne Expected to be Activated; Bolts go for Fifth Straight

PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 14: Simon Gagne of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates in his first game against his former team, the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on October 14, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Tampa Bay Lightning (12-7-2) host the New York Rangers (12-9-1) tonight at St. Pete Times Forum and according to TSN.ca, Simon Gagne could be rejoining the lineup as the Bolts go for their fifth consecutive win. 

Gagne has not played since the sixth game of the year.  He was injured after a heavy hit along the boards by New York Islanders’ forward Michael Grabner in which Gagne’s head and neck took the brunt of the impact.  The winger has been on injured reserve and missed the last 15 games with stiffness in his neck.

While it was never formally mentioned by the team, there had to be worries of a concussion with Gagne’s history.  He missed over two-thirds of the 2007-08 campaign after being hit by then Florida Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.

Gagne is still suffering from pressure in his forehead after workouts as he attempts to get back into game shape, and may be a game time decision tonight.

When he finally does get back into the lineup, it will be a second chance for the 30-year-old former Philadelphia Flyer to make an impact with the Lightning.  His early season totals left something to be desired.  In the six contests he has played so far, Gagne had no points and was a minus-8 in the plus / minus ratings.

Maybe the 15 games off will refresh Gagne and help him to be the offensive threat that he has proven to be during his 10 NHL campaigns.  Coming into this year, Gagne scored 259 goals and 524 points in 664 games, all played with the Flyers.

Going for five in a row

The club recently passed the quarter pole of the season, and it would be a good time to start showing some consistency.  After finishing October with a glowing 7-2-1 mark, Tampa Bay stumbled badly in early November by going 1-5-1 before their current four game win streak.

Guy Boucher’s club is second in the Southeast Division and tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference, just one point ahead of the Broadway Blueshirts.

Boucher has been known to stick with the hot hand in goal, and Mike Smith has played every minute of Lightning action since relieving Dan Ellis in last Thursday’s 8-7 victory in Philadelphia.  Smith has started the last two Tampa Bay games, allowing just one goal in each contest in wins over the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins.

It’s likely that Smith will be in net again tonight.

Thanks to that eight goal explosion against the Flyers, the Bolts have netted 17 goals in their four game winning streak.

Red hot forward Martin St. Louis has recorded points in eight of the last nine games, scoring three goals and 14 points in that span, and a goal and seven assists in the last four.

Steven Stamkos has five goals and seven points in his last four games, and is the NHL leader in goals (20) and tied with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby for the lead in points (35).  Stamkos also leads the league in power play goals with 10.

Winger Teddy Purcell has two goals and four points in his last three games, and has been a pleasant surprise for Tampa Bay this year.  After 21 games, Purcell currently holds the third spot in Lightning team scoring for the year with four goals and 13 points, behind only Stamkos and St. Louis.

The Rangers have won their last two contests and will look to move past the Bolts with a victory tonight.

Backup goaltender Martin Biron has started New York’s last two contests and won both, and was the game’s first star in Monday’s 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames.  Number one netminder Henrik Lundqvist has lost his last two outings, so coach John Tortorella may decide to go with Biron between the pipes tonight.

The Lightning will want to keep an eye on forward Marian Gaborik, who is definitely the most dynamic offensive threat that New York possesses.  Gaborik has recorded four goals and seven points in the six games since returning after missing 12 contests with a separated left shoulder.  It’s no coincidence the Rangers have gone 4-2 since his return.

Rookie Derek Stepan has recorded points in four consecutive games, and has scored a goal and six points in his last six.

It should be noted that the Rangers have a much better record away from home this season.  While just 5-6-1 at Madison Square Garden, New York has an excellent 7-3-0 record on the road.

With Tampa Bay owning a 5-2-1 record at St. Pete Times Forum, it should be a highly competitive game.

Bolts Bits:  Captain Vincent Lecavalier will miss his seventh straight game after being placed on injured reserve on November 12th following surgery on the broken knuckle on his right hand…defenseman Matt Smaby will miss his sixth consecutive game with an ankle injury.  Smaby was placed on injured reserve on November 13th…the Rangers are expected to be without forwards Vaclav Prospal (knee) and Chris Drury (broken finger), and defenseman Michal Rozsival (shoulder)…MC Hammer will perform at the St. Pete Times Forum after tonight’s game.  And yes, you did read that correctly…compared to last season after 21 games, Tampa Bay is one point ahead.  The 2009-10 version of the Lightning was 9-5-7 at this point last year.  _________________________________________________________

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Tags: Bolts Dan Ellis Derek Stepan Guy Boucher Henrik Lundqvist John Tortorella Lightning Marian Gaborik Martin Biron Martin St Louis Matt Smaby Michael Grabner Mike Smith National Hockey League New York Rangers NHL Rangers Sidney Crosby Simon Gagne Steven Stamkos Tampa Bay Lightning Teddy Purcell Vincent Lecavalier

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