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Flames at Lightning Preview

The Flames continue their Eastern Conference road trip as they visit the Lightning tonight in Tampa.

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Almost ten years later and I still can't see tonight's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning as any old regular season game. Despite the fact that after Martin St. Louis was traded, this team doesn't resemble the one that snatched the Cup from our collective grasp in June 2004 in any way, shape or form, every fiber of my being wants the Flames to crush them.

The chances of that happening are pretty unlikely; the Flames are on a two-game losing streak and the Bolts are third best in the East. So let's get to it...

Tampa Bay Lightning (42-25-9, 93 points, 3rd in East)

Tampa's stellar home record and a successful run of 7-1-2 in their past ten games have propelled them to the top of their division and third place in the Eastern Conference with 93 points.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Bolts' success this season is that much of it has been achieved without Steven Stamkos, who broke his leg in early November and missed 45 games, finally returning to NHL action in March.

But as writer Corey Masisak argues, Tampa did just fine without him, and actually improved its puck possession numbers. The Lightning were top ten in the league in Corsi without their star forward, and pushing the puck in the right direction was a big part of the reason they remained successful.

Ben Bishop has really delivered for the Lightning in net this season. Through 60 games, the goalie has five shutouts (including a 2-0 blanking of the Flames back in January at the Saddledome) and an SV% of .927. The Lightning also have a +24 goal differential this season, which will make any goalie look good.

Combined with impressive seasons from Tampa's youngsters Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn, the Lightning (unfortunately) look to be in pretty good shape going forward.

Players to Watch

  • The aforementioned Ondrej Palat has 19 goals and 53 points in his first full season as member of the Lightning, and is a serious contender for the NHL's rookie of the year trophy. Palat's point-per-game performance in March earned him rookie of the month honours from the league.
  • Steven Stamkos has nine goals and 13 points in his past 11 games since returning to the lineup for Tampa.
  • Michael Kostka it out with a concussion for the Lightning.

Calgary Flames (31-38-7, 69 points, 14th in West)

It's been a rough week for the Flames as they dropped two games in Ottawa and Toronto by a combined score of 9-5. To add insult to injury, they were also officially eliminated from the playoffs.

With just six games left in the season including tonight's contest in Tampa, the Flames have called up defencemen Chris Breen and, surprisingly, Mark Cundari to help them out in their own end after Tyler Wotherspoon went down with a shoulder injury that will require season-ending surgery. Cundari's career with the Flames looked as if it had met its end when he was loaned to the Chicago Wolves earlier this season, but evidently management has decided to give him another look with Wotherspoon, Dennis Wideman and Ladislav Smid out with injuries on the backend. Cundari has 10 points in 13 games with the Wolves this season.

The Flames have been out-shooting their opponents in these two losses, but some sloppy play in their own zone, bad bounces and giving up odd-man rushes have led to their demise so far on this winless road trip. They take on the Florida Panthers tomorrow before wrapping things up on Monday in New Jersey.

Players to Watch

  • Matt Stajan has two goals and two assists in his past four games, but will not play tonight or for the remainder of the Flames' road trip after returning to Calgary for personal reasons. Stajan previously took a leave of absence from the team in early March following the death of his newborn son.

Paul Byron is also a no-go for tonight, but Ben Hanowski and TJ Galiardi will play.
  • Mike Cammalleri was held pointless in Toronto, but has a goal and two assists in his past three games.
For more on the Lightning, don't forget to check out SB Nation's Bolts blog Raw Charge!