Jets-Lightning Preview

The Associated Press

After falling to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning are back in the playoff conversation thanks to a season-high five-game winning streak.

A home game against the Winnipeg Jets could help their postseason push.

Stamkos looks to lead the surging Lightning to an eighth straight home victory over the Winnipeg franchise Thursday night.

The All-Star break didn't seem to curb the momentum Tampa Bay (22-23-4) built last week, as it returned to the ice Tuesday with a 4-3 overtime victory over Washington. Stamkos scored his NHL-leading 33rd goal at 2:45 of the extra session to help the Lightning earn their 10th point in five games immediately following a season-worst seven-game skid.

"We just want to win games right now and we'll take them any way we can get them," said the two-time All-Star, who has 17 goals and seven assists in his last 20 games. "We're certainly not complaining that we gave Washington one point. We got to catch some other teams, as well."

Winnipeg (23-22-6) is one of those. The Jets sit four points ahead of the Lightning, but Tampa Bay has played two fewer games and seems to be in good position to cut the deficit in half Thursday.

The Lightning have outscored the Winnipeg franchise 27-11 in winning the last seven meetings at the Tampa Bay Times Forum since a 4-3 shootout loss March 21, 2009. It's the Lightning's longest active home winning streak against any opponent.

Stamkos has been instrumental to the run and has given the Jets fits regardless of the arena. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, he has compiled an astounding 14 goals and 10 assists in 14 games against Winnipeg/Atlanta.

During the home winning streak, Stamkos has tallied six goals and four assists. In the first meeting of the season in Tampa on Oct. 29, he assisted on Vincent Lecavalier's power-play goal in a 1-0 win.

Stamkos had a goal and an assist in Winnipeg on Nov. 14, but it wasn't enough as the Lightning lost 5-2, snapping a 12-game overall winning streak in the series.

Mathieu Garon is in his first season with the Lightning but was also a thorn in the side of the Thrashers. He hasn't started yet against Winnipeg, but he has a 0.80 goals-against average and three shutouts in winning all five career starts against the franchise.

He stopped 26 shots Tuesday and has posted a 2.23 GAA in winning his last four outings.

The Jets returned from the break Tuesday with a 2-1 shootout victory at Philadelphia to snap a three-game losing streak and complete January at 4-8-1. Bryan Little had the only shootout goal and forward Chris Thorburn scored in regulation - his first goal in 50 games this season.

"We found a way to win, and it's a huge two points for us," said Ondrej Pavelec, who stopped 27 shots. "We played a pretty good game. It wasn't easy for us, but we found a way to win."

The Jets now try to win back-to-back games for the first time since closing December with three consecutive victories.

Pavelec has been between the pipes for both games against the Lightning this season, making 30 saves in the victory. Captain Andrew Ladd had a goal in that contest.

Ladd ranks second on the team to Evander Kane with 16 goals, but Kane remains out with a concussion. Standout defenseman Dustin Byfuglien hasn't played since Dec. 23 due to a lower-body injury, but he could be nearing a return.