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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Tuesday, March 24th (All times eastern)

Columbus Blue Jackets (38-28-6) at Tampa Bay Lightning (23-33-16), 7:30 p.m.

(Sports Network) - The Columbus Blue Jackets will continue the quest for the franchise's first-ever playoff berth when they visit the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at St. Pete Times Forum.

The Blue Jackets have never qualified for the postseason since entering the league as an expansion club for the 2000-01 campaign. With a franchise-record 82 points, Columbus is currently sixth in the West and five points ahead of eighth-seeded Nashville for the conference's final playoff spot.

Columbus has helped its postseason chances recently, as it has won two straight and six of its last seven games.

The Blue Jackets were last in action Saturday at Florida and recorded a 3-1 decision. Raffi Torres scored twice late in the third period as Columbus came from behind to defeat the Panthers, 3-1, at BankAtlantic Center.

Antoine Vermette added a late empty-net goal for the Blue Jackets and has registered eight points (5 goals, 3 assists) in seven games since coming over from Ottawa at the trade deadline. The veteran forward has combined for 14 goals and 36 points in 69 games with the Jackets and Senators this season.

Rookie Steve Mason stopped 22 shots to improve to 30-17-3 on the year.

Columbus has won three straight on the road and is closing out a two-game tour of the Sunshine State tonight. The Blue Jackets are just 15-17-4 as the visiting team this season.

With 62 points, the 14th-seeded Lightning are headed for a second straight season without a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Tampa has not fared well in the spoiler role recently, as the club has dropped three straight and seven of its last nine games.

However, the Lightning have managed to record a point in five of their last six, posting a 2-1-3 record over that stretch.

The Bolts were handed a shootout loss their last time out, losing Saturday's 4-3 decision to visiting Atlanta. Slava Kozlov scored the first goal of the game and netted the winner in the shootout, as the Thrashers edged Tampa Bay, 4-3, at the Forum.

After the first three shooters in the extra segment were turned away, Kozlov fired a wrister past the stick side of Karri Ramo. Martin St. Louis was then stopped by Johan Hedberg to end the game.

Steven Stamkos lit the lamp twice, while Vaclav Prospal had the other goal for the Lightning. Ramo turned aside 33 shots for Tampa Bay, which fell to 3-10 this season in shootouts.

St. Louis recorded an assist in the loss and has reached the scoresheet in eight straight games, notching five goals and six helpers during the run. Stamkos, meanwhile, has four goals and two assists during a five-game point streak.

The Lightning have gone winless (0-1-2) on a four-game homestand that ends tonight. Tampa has lost six in a row on home ice and is just 11-15-11 as the host this season.

Columbus has won two of the last three meetings with the Lightning, but has just one win in four all-time trips to Tampa. The clubs last met at the Forum on January 13, 2006, when the Lightning recorded a 4-2 decision.

03/24 10:53:53 ET


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