The Vancouver Canucks and the Tampa Bay Lightning are involved in two of the tightest division races in the NHL. They’ll look to continue earning crucial points Tuesday at GM Place when they meet for the first time in more than three years.
The Lightning (37-26-4) are tied with Atlanta atop the Southeast Division with 78 points, but Tampa Bay has three more wins than the Thrashers.
The Canucks (38-22-5) are in first place in the Northwest with 81 points, just two ahead of Calgary and Minnesota, which hold the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference.
“The division is tight right now, and every game we need to get points,” Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. “For the rest of the season every game is going to be very important.”
The Canucks picked up two valuable points in division play Sunday with a 4-3 shootout victory over the Wild. Vancouver improved to 14-5 in games decided after regulation, including 5-3 in shootouts.
“There’s a lot of tight games,” said Daniel Sedin, who scored the winner in the sixth round. “A lot of games going into overtime and shootouts and if we hadn’t won those we wouldn’t be in the race now.”
Vancouver has stayed atop its division by going 8-1-1 since Feb. 10. Roberto Luongo has backstopped the run, going 7-1-1 with a 2.37 goals-against average during that span.
Luongo, who made 28 saves in regulation and overtime Sunday, has started every home game for the Canucks this season, leading them to a 21-9-2 record at GM Place. Vancouver has won its last four home games, with Luongo posting a 2.94 GAA in those contests.
The two-time All-Star goalie played his last five seasons with Florida before being traded to the Canucks before this season. He went 5-2-0 with a 2.27 GAA and a shutout against the Lightning last season, and is 11-10-0 with two ties and a 2.47 GAA against them in his career.
Vancouver hasn’t played Tampa Bay since it won 5-4 in overtime Jan. 21, 2004, when Markus Naslund paced the Canucks with two goals and two assists.
The Lightning lost to the Panthers 6-2 on Saturday in the second game of their season-high six-game road trip. Johan Holmqvist was replaced by Marc Denis just 5:25 into the game after the Panthers scored on their first two shots.
Tampa Bay is 11-3-2 since Jan. 30, but its goalies have struggled on the road of late, allowing 19 goals in the last four games away from the St. Pete Times Forum.
“I thought Marc came in to make some good saves to keep us around,” Lightning coach John Tortorella said.
Denis made 30 saves in the loss to drop to 4-1-0 with a 3.44 GAA in his last seven games. Holmqvist is 2-1-2 with a 3.57 GAA in his last six.
Denis is 5-8-0 with a tie and a 4.35 GAA against the Canucks, while Holmqvist has never faced them.
Vaclav Prospal scored Saturday and also scored in Thursday’s 5-4 shootout win at Washington. He has three goals and four assists in his last five road games.