Tampa Bay Lightning goes for first place Wednesday night against the Islanders
If the Tampa Bay Lightning beats the Islanders Wednesday night at the Nassau Coliseum, it will be in first place in the Southeast. The Lightning, 19-10-4 and with 42 points, are currently two points behind the first-place Capitals. But in event of a tie, Tampa Bay gets the nod because it will have played fewer games.
Perhaps that is why coach Guy Boucher said, "We're treating this as a playoff game."
The thing about facing the lowly Islanders, though, is it can be seen as a trap. New York is truly awful. It's six wins and 18 points are at the bottom of the league and it is on a 2-17-4 run. It would be human nature -- wouldn't it? -- for the Lightning to take the Islanders lightly. Boucher, though, said he is taking steps to prevent a letdown. He already has stressed the Islanders already have beaten the Lightning this season, 3-2 in overtime in Tampa, and the Lightning's 4-2 win on Long Island was closely contested.
"Very tight games, and that's just what I'm expecting tonight," Boucher said. "They have tons of young guys in there who are full of vinegar. We're taking these guys more than seriously."
Working in Tampa Bay's favor, Boucher said, is being on the road so close to the holidays.
"Christmas is coming and we have to be mentally strong," Boucher said. "I like the fact that we're not playing at home before Christmas. My experience is when you're at home you're thinking of Christmas a lot. Right now it's business. we don't want to focus on other teams, but we have an opportunity to take the lead in our division."
And then there is this: if the Lightning wins, it will have reached 20 wins in 34 games, six games quicker than the previous team mark set in 2005-06. The Lightning did not reach 20 wins last season until its 50th game. ... The last time the Lightning was in first place after 30 or more games? March 11, 2007.
Other stuff from the morning skate: As expected, Dan Ellis gets the start in net. ... Wing Ryan Malone, who was day to day with an upper body injury sustained Monday against Carolina, is good to go. ... A bit more questionable is defenseman Brett Clark, who took a shot below the belt against the Hurricanes and actually went to a hospital postgame to get checked out. While Clark on Wednesday said there is no damage and he has been using a lot of ice to calm things down, there still is pain, so he will be a game-time decision. "It's still pretty sore," he said. "We're going to wait and see. It's one of those areas you can't really mess with." Clark said the block was the most painful he has endured as a player. It also is "the one that lingers the most." Asked if there was any way to describe what it felt like, he said no. "There are no words," he said. "It's excruciating at the time. it just lingers. You just have to battle through it." Or, as he said, "Nature has to take it's course." ... Forward Mattias Ritola said he had a good experience on the flight from Tampa to New York while wearing a new pair of earplugs that were supposed to diminish the effects of Meniere's disease, which causes dizziness and ringing in his right ear. Flying, especially landing, seemed to make the problem worse. Ritola said he did experience some ringing in his ear today but not nearly as severe as in the past. In other words, the combination of new medication and the earplugs have been steps in the right direction. "It's definitely progress," Ritola said. Ritola is expected to be scratched from Wednesday's game with the Islanders, though it has nothing to do with his condition, and he could play if Clark cannot. "I'm shocked," Ritola said, "how good I can hear a day after flying."