The Tampa Bay Lightning haven’t been to the playoffs since 2007, but they’re hoping their recent stretch of solid play will spark a postseason push.
The well-rested Lightning look to win three straight for the first time in exactly one year Wednesday night when they host the Montreal Canadiens.
Tampa Bay (21-20-10) has finished last in the Southeast Division each of the last two seasons, but with a 10-6-1 record since a 1-8-2 stretch from Nov. 28-Dec. 17, the Lightning have improved their playoff chances.
Saturday’s 2-1 shootout victory over Atlanta was Tampa Bay’s third win in four games. The Lightning are 6-1-1 in their last eight at St. Pete Times Forum and among a number of teams vying for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
“The wins are all big. There are 30 games left and I think it’s crunch time,” coach Rick Tocchet told the team’s official Web site. “We’ve got to put a string together to get to the next dance.”
Antero Niittymaki(notes) will likely need to be a major contributor if that’s going to happen. Since Mike Smith(notes) strained his neck against Washington on Jan. 12, Niittymaki has started six straight games, going 3-1-0 in his last four after making 37 saves and five stops in the tiebreaker against the Thrashers.
“It’s nice to find a way to win when you didn’t play your best,” said Tocchet, who will try to lead Tampa Bay to three consecutive wins for the first time since Jan. 27 of last season when it defeated the visiting Canadiens 5-3. “He (Niittymaki) was incredible. He got us the two points.”
Niittymaki made 36 saves in a 3-1 victory in Montreal on Nov. 7 to snap a personal seven-game losing streak to the Canadiens.
Montreal (25-24-5), which has won six of nine at St. Pete Times Forum since the beginning of the 2005-06 season, posted a 2-1 overtime victory in Tampa on Dec. 30 on Tomas Plekanec’s(notes) game-winner.
Plekanec, who leads the Canadiens with 39 assists and 52 points, scored a second-period power-play goal Tuesday, but Montreal allowed two unanswered goals in the third and fell to Florida 2-1 to open its three-game trip.
“We got outworked tonight, they were more determined than us, and we had some very poor execution,” said Canadiens coach Jacques Martin.
After making 27 saves versus the Panthers, Jaroslav Halak(notes) will likely get his fourth straight start. Halak, who is 8-3-1 with a 1.99 goals-against average in his last 12 starts, is 0-1-0 with a 3.08 GAA lifetime versus the Lightning.
Michael Cammalleri(notes) will try to score in six straight games for the first time since an eight-game stretch from Jan. 8-30, 2009. Cammalleri, who has five goals and three assists in his current streak, assisted on Plekanec’s game-winner in Tampa last month.
Second-year center Steven Stamkos(notes), who leads the Lightning with 27 goals after notching his 10th on the power play Saturday, will try to find the back of the net in three straight games for the first time since a career-best six-game run Oct. 17-Nov. 2. Stamkos is two points shy of 100 for his career.