TAMPA, FL - The Tampa Bay Lightning are hoping that a return to the ice by forward Steve Downie can help provide the spark they need to get back to playing postseason caliber hockey. Missing Downie and forward Ryan Malone has been a big factor in the The Bolts' 2-5-4 slump as the lack of toughness has been evident for the team having won only twice in the entire Month of March. Downie has been skating at full strength in practice and is questionable for tonight's game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the first of a back to back home and home series.
The Hurricanes find themselves in ninth place in the Eastern conference and battling for the last playoff spot in the seasons final stretch. Just three points behind Buffalo for eighth, this series will be a huge one for the Canes as well as the Lightning as a weekend sweep clinches a playoff spot for the Bolts and all but eliminates the Hurricanes.
Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward has been sensational of late, showing why he was again an NHL All Star, playing like he did during Carolina's 2006 Stanely Cup run. If the Lightning hope to beat Ward they will need more production from their struggling superstar, Steven Stamkos.
Since Malone's last game in February, Stamkos has just 3 goals and has no points in his last three games. The young star was virtually invisible in their last game against New York and has not been the factor of late that he has been during his 43-goal season. Lighting coach Guy Boucher reportedly gave Stamkos a couple days off following the Islanders loss earlier in the week to hopefully recharge his batteries and get his young star back to playing at the level he is capable of down the stretch.
Dwayne Roloson will start in net for the Lightning on Friday, with Mike Smith likely to get the start on Saturday in Carolina.