Lightning, Sharks clash in Tampa

( - The Tampa Bay Lightning have struggled to string together wins lately, but help could soon be on the way in the form of injured star Steven Stamkos.

However, the club will once again be without Stamkos on Saturday when they host the San Jose Sharks at Tampa Bay Times Forum.

The Lightning, who are just one point behind Boston for first place in the Atlantic Division, have managed to play well despite being without their sniping centerman since he suffered a broken right tibia on Nov. 11 in Boston. However, Stamkos, a two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner, participated in his first full team skate on Tuesday and is nearing a return from the injury that required surgery.

There is still no official word on when Stamkos, who has 14 goals and nine assists in 17 games this season, will be able to return to game action but it expects to be before the NHL goes on hiatus for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Stamkos was selected to represent Team Canada at the Winter Games, but right now he is more focused on getting back to help his NHL club.

"I just want to get back out there and help these guys win," said Stamkos."I think we can really do something special this year and I look forward to contributing to that."

Stamkos' team began the month of January with two straight wins, but Tampa has alternated losses and wins since then, going 3-3-1 over the past seven games. The Bolts last played on Thursday when they dropped a 2-1 shootout decision against the visiting New York Islanders. Frans Nielsen scored the winner in the shootout to help the Isles gain the extra point at Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Martin St. Louis scored in regulation for the Lightning and Ben Bishop made 29 saves in the losing effort.

"We had our chances to put them away and we didn't", said Bishop. "I thought we played a good game, just came up on the short end against a team that's been pretty hot."

St. Louis has the longest current point streak in the NHL at six games. He has recorded four goals and three assists during the stretch and is leading the Lightning in both goals (21) and helpers (24) this season.

The Lightning are capping a brief two-game homestand on Saturday and are 14-5-3 as the host this season.

The Sharks will try to wrap a three-game road trip with a perfect record today after notching wins at Washington and Florida to begin the swing. San Jose recorded a 2-1 shootout victory in D.C. on Tuesday and then posted a 3-0 win over the Panthers.

Alex Stalock made 24 saves to record his first career shutout in the win over Florida. Joe Pavelski had a goal and an assist for the Sharks, who have won three of their last four. Matt Nieto and Joe Thornton also lit the lamp to help San Jose improve its road record to 14-10-3.

"A win is a win on the road, but a shutout is pretty special too. It will be something I will remember," Stalock said.

It's uncertain if Sharks coach Todd McLellan will play the hot hand and return to Stalock again today or if he decides to go with No. 1 netminder Antti Niemi. Stalock has never faced the Lightning, while Niemi is 3-0-1 with a 2.22 goals against average versus Tampa Bay.

San Jose downed the Lightning by a 5-1 score on Nov. 21 in Northern California and has taken three of four and seven of the past nine meetings in this series. Tampa has claimed two straight encounters in its home arena, however, and the Lightning boast a 5-2-0 record with a tie in the last eight meetings against the Sharks at the Forum.

The Sharks will return to Silicon Valley following today's road tilt and are set to begin a four-game homestand Monday against Calgary.