Lightning (27-15-5) at Thrashers (23-18-7) 7:00 pm
The Lightning begin their second set of back-to-back games within a week on Thursday night in Atlanta. This is the fifth meeting of the season between these two Southeast division teams, with the Lightning winning the previous four games.
Both teams come into this game looking to get some traction. Neither has been able to put together a solid string of wins for a little while, and both are looking to hold off teams biting at their heels. The Lightning continue to try to stave off the Washington Capitals, who are just a point back. The Thrashers are trying to keep distance between themselves and the Carolina Hurricanes, who are close to hoping the Thrashers for the 8th seed in the conference.
Despite the predicament both teams are in, Atlanta enters the game with more desperation. After getting off to a great start this season, surprising many prognosticators, the Thrashers have sunken into a bit of a lull. They are 4-5-1 in their last ten games. Their woes allowed the Hurricanes to gain enough ground to be right on their heels, banging on the door of the playoffs.
The Thrashers will be coming out with a lot of energy. They are playing at home after an emotional 3-2 shootout win over the Florida Panthers Monday night. They are also the beneficiaries of an extra day’s rest, as the Lightning last played on Tuesday.
Steven Stamkos will look to add to his goals in back-to-back games. He has scored three goals in the last two games and has sole possession of the league’s goal-scoring race with 35. Stamkos is also closing in on Sidney Crosby for the points lead, only three points behind. In the previous four meetings between the teams, Stamkos has amassed a whopping six goals and nine points, including two of the game-winning goals.
The last two times the Lightning and Thrashers met, the game couldn’t be decided in regulation. Tampa Bay won the December 15th game in shootout, while winning the December 26th game in overtime. The Lightning will want to avoid free hockey tonight as they have to get on a plane and fly to Miami to take on the Panthers on Friday.
These division games are often referred to by the players as “four-point games”, and the Lightning will have to fight to hold their own while facing more desperate teams in the coming days.