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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Tuesday, January 4th (All times eastern)

Tampa Bay Lightning (23-11-5) at Washington Capitals (23-12-5), 7 p.m.

(Sports Network) - The Washington Capitals will be back to playing hockey indoors tonight, when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning in an important Southeast Division clash at the Verizon Center.

The Capitals made a successful Winter Classic debut Saturday night at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, defeating the host Penguins by a 3-1 score. The NHL's annual outdoor game on New Year's Day featured less than ideal conditions. The contest was postponed until the evening due to concerns about wet weather, but even the later start time could not keep the rain from falling on the players.

Washington will be back to playing under controlled conditions tonight as Bruce Boudreau's club battles the Lightning for the top spot in the division. The clubs are currently tied for the Southeast lead with 51 points apiece and Atlanta is lurking just three points behind.

Tonight will mark the third meeting of the year between the Caps and Bolts and it's also the third encounter in D.C. Washington notched a 6-3 win over Tampa on Nov. 11 and added a 6-0 rout on Nov. 26.

All told, the Capitals have won three straight, five of six and 17 of their last 19 games against the Lightning. Tampa has dropped nine of 10 and 11 of its last 13 tilts in D.C.

In the buildup to the Winter Classic the contest was touted as a superstar battle between Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alex Ovechkin, but it was Eric Fehr who wound up stealing the show with two of the game's four goals.

Fehr notched the go-ahead and insurance goals as the Capitals downed the Penguins, 3-1. The goals were Fehr's sixth and seventh markers of the season.

"What can I say? I thought he played a real good game," said Boudreau of Fehr. "And he finally got rewarded by doing the things that we know he's capable of doing. And then he gets two goals. And that's big, obviously."

Mike Knuble netted the other score for the Capitals, who battled through the tough conditions at the home of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers to post their fifth win in their last six games.

"I think both teams were just so excited, and it was pretty fun," said Ovechkin. "The first period was good weather. The second period was a little bit of rain, and third period was lots of rain. So it was kind of - weather changed all the time and we handled it, and it was a pretty good game."

Semyon Varlamov stopped 32-of-33 shots to earn his seventh win of the season. Varlamov, who recorded a shutout against Montreal in his previous start, was named the NHL's First Star for the week ending Jan. 2

The Caps are playing the first of two straight on home ice and are 14-4-4 as the host this season.

The Lightning have been playing superb hockey in recent weeks, posting an 8-1-2 record over the last 11 games. Tampa, which is 11-8-3 as the road team this year, will aim for a third straight victory when it begins a four-game road trip tonight.

Although Tampa allowed a total of two goals in its last two outings against Montreal and the New York Rangers, defense and goaltending has been a concern for the club this season. To try and help fix the goaltending problem the Lightning went out and traded for Dwayne Roloson over the weekend and the veteran backstop is expected to get the start for his new team tonight.

The Lightning acquired Roloson from the New York Islanders on Saturday in exchange for defenseman Ty Wishart. His arrival in Tampa means the Bolts have a decision to make in the crease, with Dan Ellis and Mike Smith already entrenched in net this season. Smith is currently on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Roloson was 6-13-1 with a 2.64 goals-against average in 20 starts for the lowly Islanders this season, but he won four of his last five outings dating back to December 22. Tampa Bay will be Roloson's sixth stop in 13 NHL seasons. Over 532 games (491 starts), the 41-year-old is 196-229-33 with 42 ties, a 2.66 GAA and 24 shutouts.

With Roloson now in tow, the Lightning sent Cedrick Desjardins back to the club's AHL affiliate in Norfolk. Desjardins made 27 saves in a 4-1 win over Montreal on Thursday in his NHL debut and also earned the win Saturday against the Rangers.

Nate Thompson scored 19 seconds into overtime to lift the Lightning to the 2-1 win over the visiting Rangers. In the extra session, Dana Tyrell caught up to the puck in the deep left corner and threw it out front. The disc was slowed down by a sliding New York defender, but it had enough on it to get to the right side where Thompson slammed it home for the win.

"It was an exciting feeling," said Tyrell on the goal. "He's set up my goals this year and I was lucky enough to set him up for once. It kind of squeaked through the defenseman and he was able to get it in."

Tyrell scored for the Lightning in the first period off an assist from Thompson.

Tampa is hoping to have winger Steve Downie back tonight for the first time in over a month. Downie, who has three goals, 15 points and 68 penalty minutes in 23 games this season, hasn't played since Dec. 2 against Boston, but he could return from the high ankle sprain tonight.

01/04 11:14:36 ET


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