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Mar 18, 2024 11:44 pm

Lightning, Knights look to keep rolling down stretch

Tampa Bay Lightning

Two teams that have combined to win three of the past four Stanley Cup championships square off Tuesday in Las Vegas when the Tampa Bay Lightning visit the Vegas Golden Knights.

Both teams currently find themselves in wild-card spots heading into the final month of the season after slow starts following their bye weeks and the All-Star break. But both teams have ramped things up in the past week.

Tampa Bay (36-25-6, 78 points), which won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2020 and 2021, is fourth in the Atlantic Division and holds the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference after winning three in row and four of its past five games.

Defending Stanley Cup champ Vegas (36-24-7), meanwhile, is tied with Los Angeles (34-22-11) for third in the Pacific Division with 79 points, but the Kings currently hold the regulation-wins tiebreaker, 29-28. That slides the Golden Knights into the final wild-card spot in Western Conference, four points in front of the St. Louis Blues.

Vegas has won three of its past four games and bounced back from a lethargic 4-1 road loss to the Calgary Flames on Thursday to defeat the visiting New Jersey Devils 3-1 on Sunday afternoon. Jack Eichel scored the go-ahead goal at 11:06 of the third period and Logan Thompson stopped 20 of 21 shots to lead the Golden Knights.

The bounce-back win over the Devils came after Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy had called out his team for its lack of urgency during the loss to the Flames.

“It was a big win for us. We needed it,” Eichel said. “Hopefully we can use this as momentum here as we’ve got a few games at home this week as we try and win some more points.”

The Tuesday game against Tampa Bay is the second contest of a four-game homestand for Vegas, which also hosts the Seattle Kraken on Thursday and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday. The Golden Knights then depart on a difficult four-game road trip that includes a back-to-back at St. Louis and Nashville as well as games at Winnipeg and Minnesota.

“I think it’s a start,” Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez said of the win over New Jersey. “I think we’d be fooling ourselves if we said our game is where we want it to be right now. This time of year is crunch time. (Winning) three of the last four, can certainly build on it. We need to get some momentum here.”

Tampa Bay is set to play the second contest of a five-game road trip that started with a 5-3 win over the rival Florida Panthers on Saturday in Sunrise, Fla. The final three games are on the West Coast: a Thursday game against the San Jose Sharks followed by a weekend Southern California back-to-back against the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper was asked what kind of adjustments his team would need to make playing three time zones away.

“We’re not playing in altitude, which is a good thing,” Cooper said before departing on the 4 1/2-hour flight to Las Vegas on Monday afternoon. “Those are always tougher ones that you have to navigate around. It’s usually the first day or two when guys will be up at 5 or 6 in the morning because of the time change. Usually we’ve had decent success when we head out there, so hopefully we can do it again.”

Tampa Bay center Nikita Kucherov will bring a 10-game point streak (four goals, 16 assists) with him to Las Vegas. Kucherov, who is second in the league in scoring with 114 points, was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week on Monday after logging two goals and five assists in two games, including his sixth career five-plus-point game (one goal, four assists) in a 6-3 win over the New York Rangers on Thursday.

–Field Level Media

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