NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Tuesday, March 16th (All times eastern)
Phoenix Coyotes (42-22-5) at Tampa Bay Lightning (28-28-12), 7:30 p.m.
(Sports Network) - A flurry of recent moves have paid instant dividends for the Phoenix Coyotes, who'll be trying to run their current winning streak to six games in this evening's matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning from the St. Pete Times Forum.
Since making a startling seven deals prior to the March 3 trade deadline, the Coyotes have ripped off five consecutive wins to further solidify their chances for a first playoff appearance since 2001-02. The tear has given Phoenix 89 points for the season, good for fourth place in the Western Conference and just seven behind top-seeded San Jose for the Pacific Division lead.
With a victory tonight, Phoenix would match a club record for wins in a single season set in 1984-85, when the franchise was located in Winnipeg.
Lee Stempniak has played a major part in the Coyotes' surge, scoring six goals in five games since being acquired from Toronto earlier this month. Fellow forward Wojtek Wolski (2 goals, 1 assist, plus-three rating) and veteran defenseman Derek Morris (plus-four rating), brought in from Colorado and Boston, respectively, in deadline swaps, have made a noticeable impact as well for a Phoenix squad that has outscored the opposition by an 18-6 margin over its present streak.
The Coyotes received a big lift out of one of their holdovers in their most recent win, with reserve goaltender Jason LaBarbara making 39 saves in Sunday's 3-2 shootout decision over Atlanta. Adrian Aucoin came up with the game-winning goal in the fourth round of the deciding phase.
"I thought we were sluggish for most of the game, but the biggest thing is we found a way to get two points and a win," said LaBarbera, who also turned aside 3-of-4 Thrasher skaters in the shootout. "The guys played great in front of me."
Stempniak, named the NHL's Second Star of the Week on Monday, had one of Phoenix's two regulation goals and has notched eight points (6 goals, 2 assists) during a six-game scoring streak.
LaBarbera will likely yield tonight to regular backstop Ilya Bryzgalov, another who's been sensational for Phoenix down the stretch. The 29-year-old has surrendered just four goals and posted two shutouts over his last four starts and is coming off a 29-save performance in a 4-0 victory over Carolina in Saturday's opener of a four-game road trip.
While the Coyotes have been red-hot as of late, Tampa enters tonight's clash having dropped eight of its last 10 tilts following Sunday's 2-1 home setback to defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh. Despite their rough stretch, the Lightning stand just four points back of Boston for the eighth playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
Steven Stamkos has helped Tampa Bay remain in postseason contention, although the second-year center has been kept off the scoresheet in two straight outings following a franchise-record 18-game point streak. The 20-year-old ranks third in the NHL with 42 goals this season, trailing only superstars Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin in that category.
Ryan Malone, who stands third among Lightning players with 21 goals, sat out for the second time in three games in Sunday's loss and is day-to-day with an undisclosed upper-body injury.
Vincent Lecavalier scored the lone Tampa goal against the Penguins, with Antero Niittymaki stopping 37-of-39 shots on the night. The Finnish netminder had been working on a shutout until Pittsburgh put up a pair of goals within a three-minute span in the third period.
"It looked like we had things under control, and then we take back-to-back penalties," said Bolts forward Martin St. Louis of the Penguins' rally. "You give them an opening and it's over because they start feeling good about themselves."
The loss kicked off a four-game homestand for Tampa Bay, which owns an 18-9-6 record at the St. Pete Times Forum this season.
The Lightning have prevailed in three straight and five of their last six meetings with the Coyotes held in Florida, as well as seven of the past eight overall encounters between the teams. Phoenix will be making its first trip to Tampa since a 5-3 defeat on February 13, 2007.
03/16 10:46:08 ET