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Phoenix Coyotes at Tampa Bay Lightning - Game #70 Preview - We're almost home...

And when I say the Phoenix Coyotes are almost home I don't mean from the roadtrip, but to a home in the Playoffs. Technically our magic number after tonight would be 7, but realistically it's not going to take quite that to get in. But guess what? I'm not even thinking about magic numbers with San Jose losing games and us continuing our winning ways bringing a 5 game winning streak into the St. Pete Time Forum against the Lightning. Dream big. Get the division. Shock the world. 

On to the matter at hand though. I need to focus on one game at a time much like the guys do. I'm getting ahead of myself. Tonight we face a Tampa Bay team that has really fallen off the map since the last time we met in November. They looked like a resurgent team under new leadership as well. But since then they've slowly gone backwards and now find themselves in 10th place in the East 4 points back of Boston who's in 8th. To say the Lightning need this win would be an understatement at this point. That doesn't mean we're going to cough them up by any means though. We'll need to be on the lookout for the top line of Steven Stamkos - Martin St. Louis - Steve Downie as they've been bringing it lately. Downie of course was involved in the Crosby hit that got so much play this weekend, but the line is scoring in bunches even if it's not translating into wins. If there's a weak spot to exploit it's got to be the goaltending. It's been streaky all year with Mike Smith getting starts here and there behind Antero Niittymaki. Niittymaki has been more solid, with a GAA of 2.69 and a.914 sv%. Even so he's only seen 39 starts with Smith getting about 30. Niitty is expected to get the start tonight. 

Hopefully the Coyotes got some rest after a hard fought overtime win in Atlanta on a quick turn around. They did practice yesterday so there wasn't just off time, but somethings got to look better as they just looked asleep on Sunday. The did manage to find a way to win as Jason LaBarbera at least looked rested. Ilya Bryzgalov will take over again as he was stellar against Carolina. Look for the NHL's second star of the week Lee Stempniak to stay involved as well as he's just been on fire. 6G, 1A +7 in 5 games so far. Martin Hanzal didn't practice yesterday, though the Coyotes said his injury that he suffered early in the Thrashers' game wasn't serious. He'll either be back or we might see Robert Lang back in the line up or even just move someone else to center and put one of the wings in. The scratches from last game were Petr Prucha, Viktor Tikhonov and Jim Vandermeer with Lang and Sami Lepisto out for injuries. We'll see if anyone played hard enough in practice today to get back some ice time. 

STARTING GOALTENDERS


GP MIN W L EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2009 - Ilya Bryzgalov 59 3463 36 18 131 2.27 1668 1537 .921 8

Last time out he shutout Carolina and now leads the league and is tied for the team record in shutouts. If he's seeing the puck even half as well as he did in Carolina the Lightning will be in serious trouble. 


GP MIN W L EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2009 - Antero Niittymaki 39 2167 18 13 97 2.69 1125 1028 .914 1

Like I said before looking at the record he's alright statistically, but he's streaky. A lot of the Ws in that record came in an 8 game stretch between Jan. 21 and Feb. 9 where he went 7-1. Other than that he's been spotty. He'll have a good game or two and then implode so Smith gets a call. His last game was a tough 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday. 

KEY PLAYERS


Lee "Desert Ninja" Stempniak

#22 / Right Wing / Phoenix Coyotes

6-0

195

Feb 04, 1983


This is really his spot to lose. He's doing it all. 2 PPG also help though when you're seeing the puck like he is right now who cares when it goes in, it's just finding the way to the net.


Steven Stamkos

#91 / Center / Tampa Bay Lightning

6-1

196

Feb 07, 1990


He got a bad lower back bruise against the Penguins that saw his playing time limited and with how he's been playing he's not a player the Lightning want out. It's kinda cheap, but the Coyotes need to finish their checks to keep him off his game if he's trying to play like normal. He says he's good to go even if he's got a lot of pain right now. We'll see.

THE INFIRMARY


Phoenix Coyotes Injuries

Questionable

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Robert Lang other-excused 03/15/2010

Out (IR / Out / Suspended / Physically unvailable)

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Kurt Sauer head 10/07/2009
Scottie Upshall knee 01/29/2010


Tampa Bay Lightning Injuries

Questionable

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Ryan Malone other-excused 03/15/2010
Steven Stamkos back 03/15/2010

Out (IR / Out / Suspended / Physically unvailable)

Player Injury Type Injury Date
David Hale leg 02/06/2010