With the rise of the Washington Capitals in recent seasons up the Southeast Division ladder, so has the fall of the former Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning down towards the basement.
Tonight, the Capitals go for their 13th straight win over the Bolts, seventh straight at the St. Pete Times Forum. The last Lightning win over the Caps came just weeks before Glen Hanlon was fired in November of 2007, before the team turned its play around with Bruce Boudreau's hiring and went on to win back-to-back Southeastern Division titles and become a true Stanley Cup contender.
Now, with a commanding lead in the division this year, the Capitals will hope to continue their strong play against their rivals, and boost its 16-point edge in the Southeast.
The Caps have played Tampa once earlier this season, recording a 3-0 win thanks to a 26-save Semyon Varlamov shutout, as Alexander Ovechkin notched a pair of goals to fuel the win.
Coming off a bizarre weekend where they played three straight days thanks to a lighting problem at the Prudential Center, the Lightning need points to boost its playoff hopes, as they enter the night four points back of eighth-place Montreal.
While the Lightning feature three talented forwards in Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and the emerging Steve Stamkos, Tampa has had trouble lighting the lamp this season, with the second-worst production in the league, just one goal better than Carolina's total. Beyond their top line, production is scarce, and is one reason the Bolts sit at .500 (17-17-10).
Tampa's defense has been a bit better than last year's squad, where the team ended up with the second-worst points total in the league. But they will be facing a Capitals squad that now is averaging over 3.5 goals-per-game, and fresh off an eight-goal performance in Atlanta.
Washington will look to keep the Lightning's top line in check and exploit their defense, but also will have to be careful of the tough back-to-back schedule with another divisional contest tomorrow night in Sunrise.