The resurgent Lightning look to push their season-high win streak to four games when they host the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night.
Tampa Bay’s first three-game win streak has gotten it back into contention in the tightly bunched Eastern Conference. The Lightning (22-20-10) are in a logjam of teams fighting for the last few playoff spots.
“We hadn’t won three together all year,” right wing Steve Downie(notes) said. “We’re making a push here. We’ve gotta get back in contention for the playoffs so three’s not enough. We’ve gotta keep it going.”
Niittymaki has started the last seven games in place of the injured Mike Smith(notes), and posted a 0.95 goals-against average in winning the last three. He made 33 saves Wednesday for his first shutout of the season in a 3-0 home win over Montreal.
“I think we played a solid defensive game today and Nitti’s a big part of that and he comes up with big saves for us,” Stamkos said. “We feel very confident with Nitti back there.”
Smith has been out since suffering a neck strain Jan. 12 against Washington, but returned as Niittymaki’s backup Wednesday.
Downie assisted on Tampa Bay’s first two goals before Stamkos extended his goal streak to three games with a power-play tally. He has scored in every game of this four-game homestand and has a team-high 28 goals - five more than his total as a rookie in 2008-09.
Stamkos’ goal also gave the Lightning power-play tallies in six straight contests for the first time since they did it seven games in a row Nov. 16-28.
Anaheim (24-23-7) is making its first visit to Tampa Bay since a 4-3 loss Dec. 9, 2006. The Lightning won four of the last five meetings, the most recent a 4-3 overtime victory Nov. 19 on Scott Niedermeyer’s power-play goal.
The Ducks fell to 1-3 on their six-game trip with a 5-1 loss to Washington on Wednesday. The game was tied until the high-scoring Capitals recorded three goals in the first 4:15 of the third period.
“For whatever reason, we had a very poor start to the third period and they scored on I think their second shift, you know, to give them the lead,” coach Randy Carlyle said. “And then the next one comes and the next one comes.”
“The decision to play him tonight was with Jonas, he would have played 12 games in 20 days, that was a lot of hockey,” Carlyle said. “We felt that we needed to get Giggy some time in the net and he didn’t disappoint us.”