Lightning hope to extend surge in clash with Sens

The Tampa Bay Lightning will try to continue their recent surge up the Eastern Conference standings when they host the Ottawa Senators tonight at Tampa Times Forum.

The Lightning have won four straight games, leaving them one victory shy of the season-high, five-game tear from Jan. 17-31. Since the start of that hot streak in mid-January, Tampa Bay has compiled a 14-5-2 record and has pulled itself within four points of a playoff spot in the East.

Meanwhile, the Senators, who are four points ahead of eighth-seeded Winnipeg, have lost two straight to begin March after closing last month with wins in six of seven games. Ottawa is also three points behind Boston for the Northeast Division lead.

The Sens will try to get back on track tonight against a team it has had tremendous success against this season. Ottawa is 3-0 versus the Lightning in 2011-12 and has outscored Tampa by a combined 12-3 margin in those games. The Senators, who can complete a season sweep of the Bolts this evening, have won two of their last three games in Tampa.

Tampa won its last two games in overtime, beating the Rangers and Hurricanes by identical 4-3 scores on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Steven Stamkos was the hero in Saturday's win at Carolina, as he scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner at 2:41 of overtime, to lift the Lightning to victory. Stamkos is leading the NHL with 47 goals, and with 80 points, is just one behind Evgeni Malkin for the league lead,

Stamkos scored Saturday's game-winner while Tampa Bay was on a 4-on-3 power play following an ill-advised roughing penalty by Carolina's Brandon Sutter. Holding the puck in the high slot, Teddy Purcell slid the puck down below the goal line to the right of the net for Stamkos, who beat Carolina netminder Cam Ward with a quick wrist shot from the sharp angle.

Purcell and Tim Wallace also scored for the Lightning, who got 24 saves from Mathieu Garon. Purcell enters tonight riding a personal-best nine-game point streak and has six goals and 13 assists during the run.

Tampa Bay's top line of Stamkos, Purcell and Martin St. Louis have combined for 22 goals and 48 points over the last nine games.

"They're three skilled players who are very smart, and that makes them tough to handle," Tampa Bay head coach Guy Boucher said. "The reality is they've been very dominant, and in their case, all three of them have tried to get that good mix of perimeter play and inside-the-dots play. That's why they've been so successful."

The Lightning hope to have defenseman Victor Hedman back tonight after he missed the last four games with an upper-body injury. He is questionable for tonight. Also, fellow defenseman Bruno Gervais is expected to sit out tonight with an upper-body issue.

Tampa Bay has won its last five home games and is 20-9-2 as the host this season.

The Senators have lost consecutive regulation decisions to begin March and are coming off Sunday's 4-2 road setback against the Florida Panthers. Ottawa jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, but Florida scored three times in the second to take control of the game.

"Our competition level after the first period stayed the same and theirs, obviously, elevated to a higher level and they took over the game," Senators head coach Paul MacLean said.

Jared Cowen and Chris Neil scored for Ottawa, while Robin Lehner stopped 24 shots in defeat. Lehner is 2-2 since taking over starting duties for the injured Craig Anderson, who is out indefinitely with a lacerated finger.

However, Lehner was reassigned to Binghamton of the AHL on Monday and Ben Bishop was recalled in his place. Bishop was acquired by the Senators in a trade with the Blues after Anderson was injured, but he has yet to suit up for the NHL club.

Ottawa had won four straight on the road before losing to the Panthers. The Sens are 17-12-5 as the visiting team this season.