Game Day: Blue Jackets at Lightning 1/18/11

Blue Jackets (21-20-4) at Lightning (26-15-5) 7:30 pm

Tampa Bay looks to respond to back-to-back losses against Columbus on Tuesday.  The Lightning’s two losses were against the worst team in the league (statistically, anyway), and a team fighting for a playoff spot.  Steven Stamkos scored his 100th goal in the loss to Carolina.

The Lightning are facing a tight Western team in the Blue Jackets.  It may not seem like a tough test from a team in 13th in its conference, but Columbus is coming off of back-to-back games against the Detroit Red Wings.  They won the first and lost the second in overtime.

When they want to step it up, the Blue Jackets (much like the Lightning) rise to meet the challenge.  Both teams suffer from inconsistency.  This is a key point for the Lightning: they can seize an opportunity to break the Southeast division tie (again) or they can allow themselves to slide into a slump.

They showed signs of life in both games, and came just short of the comeback Saturday night in Raleigh.  Perhaps some home-cooking will give the Lightning the extra push they need to get back on track.  The Capitals have tied the division up again, and a Bruins win on Monday dropped the Lightning to the third seed in the conference.

The Bolts can’t afford a losing streak.  The Southeast division has become too tight.  The Caps’ inconsistency allowed the Lightning to step up and take the lead, but the Lightning are poised to give it right back.  They started some great momentum at the end of the game on Saturday, and they need to build on that against Columbus.

A quick start will be important much like it was against the Devils.  The Blue Jackets have a .813 winning percentage when leading after the first, and are .917 when leading after the second.  However conversely, they are only .176 when trailing after the first and .091 when trailing after the second.  If the Lightning can get ahead early, they are overwhelming favorites to win the game.

It is hard to fight the doldrums that is the middle of the NHL season.  Having something to focus on (like a good division fight) should do the trick.

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