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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Tuesday, January 18th (All times eastern)

Columbus Blue Jackets (21-20-4) at Tampa Bay Lightning (26-15-5), 7:30 p.m.

(Sports Network) - Deadlocked atop the Southeast Division, an upcoming home- heavy schedule could help the Lightning break away from the pack.

Tampa Bay will try to get that favorable run off to a good start and avoid losing three in a row for the first time in over two months this evening when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets at St. Pete Times Forum.

The Lightning will play 13 of their next 15 games at home, including a 12-game homestand from Jan. 23-Feb. 25. Tampa Bay will play two straight on the road following tonight's contest before that epic residency.

Tampa Bay has won seven of its last nine at home and is 13-4-2 at St. Pete Times Forum this year. A strong showing over the next month could help the club pull away from Washington, which it is currently tied with for the top spot in the division.

The Lightning, though, dropped back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 7-10 with Saturday's 6-4 setback at Carolina. Tampa hasn't lost three straight since Nov. 11-14.

Simon Gagne scored twice in the setback, giving the forward three goals in his last three games. The offseason addition has been limited to 28 games this year due to injury, notching six goals.

Steven Stamkos added his league-leading 33rd goal of the season -- one more than injured Penguins star Sidney Crosby -- and has scored in two straight after going six in a row without a goal.

The Lightning got 25 saves from Dwayne Roloson, but yielded four power-play goals and a short-handed tally. Roloson was denied his 200th career victory with the loss.

"I think we deserved to have a close game because we worked hard enough, but we'd never deserve to win because we weren't smart," said Lightning head coach Guy Boucher.

Roloson is 3-3 with a 3.16 goals-against average with two shutouts since being acquired from the Islanders, and is 10-9-2 with a 2.13 GAA in his career versus Columbus. Boucher could opt to go with Dan Ellis tonight given that the goaltender is 5-1-1 with a 1.47 GAA when facing the Blue Jackets.

Columbus snapped a five-game losing streak with Friday's 3-2 shootout win at home over Detroit, but dropped a 6-5 overtime decision in Detroit the following night. Steve Mason allowed all six goals on 34 shots, including the game-winner 45 seconds into overtime.

Rick Nash forced the extra playing time on a goal with 64 seconds remaining in regulation and also finished with two assists. He has three goals and four assists over his last four games as well as four tallies and 13 points in his last 10.

Grant Clitsome and Derick Brassard each notched a goal and an assist while Matt Calvert and R.J. Umberger both scored in the defeat. Columbus is last in the Central Division but just six points out of a playoff spot.

"We've seen a lot of heart in this team the last couple of games," Umberger said. "We have to keep moving forward. We'll take these points and keep working hard."

Columbus has played five of its last seven on the road, going 0-4-1 away from Ohio in that span. Saturday's loss came in the opener of a four-game swing.

Rostislav Klesla did not play in Saturday's game due to illness and is questionable for this game.

Columbus goaltenders have struggled so far in January, with Mason going 1-2-1 with a 4.13 GAA in four starts. Mathieu Garon hasn't been any better, going 0-3-0 with a 4.76 GAA in four games this month.

Nash scored twice and Mason made 16 saves in a 3-2 home victory over the Lightning last year. It was Columbus' third victory in its last five versus Tampa Bay, but it has lost two straight at St. Pete Times Forum.

01/18 10:52:22 ET


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