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Lightning views tonight's game with Red Wings as a measuring stick

Lightning right wing J.T. Brown is in, and veteran left wing Brenden Morrow is out.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Lightning right wing J.T. Brown is in, and veteran left wing Brenden Morrow is out.

The Lightning enters tonight's showdown with the Red Wings trailing by just one point atop the Atlantic Division.

But coach Jon Cooper made the pecking order pretty clear.

"People can say what they want, we're playing the best team in the league, the Eastern Conference right here," Cooper said. "I think everything goes through them. They're the real deal. This is a game to see where you're at. That's how good I think these guys are."

But Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was pretty complimentary on Tampa Bay, too.

"Elite, elite skill," Babcock said. "They've built up a ton of young kids. They have a real special group. They have a real opportunity for a long run here it looks like."

While the Red Wings have a much richer history, having made the playoffs 23 straight seasons, Cooper said the organizations "mirror" each other more recently in terms of how they've been built, as well as their styles. Their minor league teams each won the Calder Cup in back-to-back years, with several of the players in the game tonight. …

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Lightning try to get "mojo" back on power play

With the Lightning power play fizzling as of late, it switched up its personnel at Wednesday's practice.

Touted rookie Jonathan Drouin joined the first unit with captain Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan and Valtteri Filppula. The "Triplets" line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov were with Brett Connolly.

"Just trying to get the mojo back," assistant Steve Thomas said.

The Lightning needs to. While it boasted a top-five power play unit early in the season, the power play has struggled in recent weeks, including a 1-for-15 skid the past five games. It's dropped to 16th (18.1-percent). 

That's not nearly good enough, especially heading into Thursday's showdown with the first-place Red Wings, which lead Tampa Bay by one point in the Atlantic. 

"The biggest problem is we don't have a shooter's mentality," coach Jon Cooper said. "When you're tic-tac-toe, everybody's touching the puck, a very deliberate standing-still style, it doesn't work in the NHL. It doesn't work in midgets."

The good news for the Lightning is that the Red Wings penalty kill is in a funk, giving up eight goals in its last five games (11-for-19, including a season-high three Tuesday against the Panthers. …

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Tyler Johnson unsure of status tonight

Tyler Johnson, the Lightning's leading scorer, has dealt with a lower-body injury since Jan. 12, re-aggravating it Jan. 20.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Tyler Johnson, the Lightning's leading scorer, has dealt with a lower-body injury since Jan. 12, re-aggravating it Jan. 20.

While Lightning center Tyler Johnson participated in today's morning skate - including taking part in the line rushes - he still remained uncertain whether he'd be able to play tonight against the Hurricanes.

Johnson, 24, the team's leading scorer, has dealt with a lower-body injury since Jan. 12, re-aggravating it Jan. 20. The five days off during the All-Star break helped, including passing on the All-Star game.

"He's a pretty tough kid," coach Jon Cooper said. "He finds a way."

Johnson, who played through a broken foot the second half of last season, acknowledges there's a balance between fightning through a nagging injury or making it worse.

"I think that's the mentality all the time, is knowing what your limitations are, what you can do," Johnson said. "Knowing your body a little bit, trying to figure things out, if you can play through it or if it's smart to sit out a game."

Hurricanes coach Bill Peters, who coached Johnson in juniors in Spokane, said that second line - with Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov - are a tough matchup. …

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Tyler Johnson a game-time decision vs. Carolina

The Lightning was a little encouraged to see center Tyler Johnson back on the ice for Monday's practice, considering he missed Sunday's All-Star game due to a lingering lower-body injury.

But coach Jon Cooper made it clear there's no guarantee Johnson plays Tuesday night in Carolina.

"Don't read into anything," Cooper said. "He'll be a game-time decision at best."

Johnson, 24, the Lightning's leading scorer, said the five days of rest helped his injury, which he suffered Jan. 12 in Philadelphia and reaggravated in Jan. 20 game against Vancouver. But it's still "there," which is why he pulled out of the All-Star game. Johnson did enjoy the festivities, though.

“It’s disappointing,” Johnson said. “Obviously, you want to be able to be there and be able to play, but there’s other things that are more important.”

Few players are more important to Tampa Bay than Johnson, who leads the team with 48 points, 31 assists, along with 17 goals. Known for his toughness, Johnson played through a broken foot the second half of last season. …

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Steven Stamkos says "plan" is to sign extension with Lightning

It's no secret that captain Steven Stamkos loves playing in Tampa, and for the Lightning.

Stamkos, drafted No. 1 overall by Tampa Bay in 2008, has become the face of the franchise. And on Friday, Stamkos, 24, made his strongest comments yet that he plans to stay with the Lightning for a long time.

Stamkos said at All-Star media day in Columbus that he envisions signing an extension this summer, one year before he'd become an unrestricted free agent, like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane did with Chicago. …

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Young Lightning defensemen will be tested in Matt Carle's absence

With Matt Carle sidelined and Radko Gudas out for the season, it will be a group effort in filling their shoes - and minutes - with young defensemen such as Mark Barberio getting expanded roles.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

With Matt Carle sidelined and Radko Gudas out for the season, it will be a group effort in filling their shoes - and minutes - with young defensemen such as Mark Barberio getting expanded roles.

The Lightning knows what it'll miss in veteran defenseman Matt Carle, who is out 6-8 weeks after today's abdominal surgery.

"He plays 20 minutes a night and you know exactly what he's going to do," associate coach Rick Bowness said. "Very reliable."

"Matt is a veteran guy, a calming presence," captain Steven Stamkos said. "He makes plays under pressure. It's going to be tough for guys to step up and totally fill his shoes."

With Carle sidelined and defenseman Radko Gudas out for the season after knee surgery, it will be a group effort in filling their shoes - and minutes - with young defensemen like D Mark Barberio and D Nikita Nesterov getting expanded roles. Rookie D Luke Witkowski, 24, is slated to make his NHL debut tonight against the Canucks.

"Happy, excited, nervous," said Witkowski, a sixth-round pick in 2008. "It's been a long time coming."

Bowness said what the Lightning has to be careful about is managing minutes. He said he has a "ballpark figure" on the maximum minutes each defensemen should play to be effective.

"You try to avoid going over it because that effects their play not only that game but down the road," Bowness said. …

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Matt Carle to undergo surgery, out 6-8 weeks

Lightning veteran defenseman Matt Carle will be out 6-8 weeks after undergoing surgery Tuesday to repair torn adductor muscles in his lower abdomen.

Carle suffered the injury in Thursday's 3-2 win over the Oilers, and saw a specialist today. The surgery will be in Philadelphia, with him possibly returning in early to mid-March.

It's another big blow to the Lightning blueline, as Radko Gudas is out for the rest of the regular season after knee surgery. Carle, 30, snapped his streak of 347 consecutive regular season games played on Saturday.

Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said the plan is to rely on its depth - with Mark Barberio and Nikita Nesterov getting expanded roles - while exploring the possibility of a deal before Mar. 2 trade deadline.

"We've lost two of our top six defenseman, it's tough to replace those guys," GM Steve Yzerman said. "We're fortunate that Mark Barberio has stepped in and Nikita Nesterov has come up from Syracuse and played the first half a dozen games in the NHL and done extremely well." …

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Matt Carle to see specialist about injury

Lightning veteran defenseman Matt Carle was scheduled to see a specialist Monday regarding the undisclosed injury he suffered Thursday against Edmonton.

Carle missed his first game since Mar. 2010 on Saturday, snapping a streak of 347 consecutive regular season games played. The Lightning hoped to know more Monday night or Tuesday morning on his status going forward.

“Could be a one day thing, one week, one month. I have no idea,” Cooper said. “We’ll hopefully get some good news today.”

With Carle likely out Tuesday against Vancouver, Cooper said there was a chance rookie defenseman Luke Witkowski makes his NHL debut.

Center Tyler Johnson did not practice today, but it was just a rest day and he's scheduled to play Tuesday vs. Vancouver.

The Lightning (29-14-4) will head into the four-day All-Star break after Tuesday game, something Cooper feels is welcomed.

“Looking forward to the break a little bit, especially with the amount of games we’ve played,” Cooper said. “You look at the standings and…some teams have played four or five less games than us. So you think about that over the course of the season, that adds up. We need a rest.”


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Jarome Iginla on signing with Lightning: "It was close"

The Lightning was in need of veteran forwards - and some grit - during free agency this past summer.

And wing Jarome Iginla, 37, the former Flame, Penguin and Bruin, was one of Tampa Bay's targets. Iginla signed a three-year, $16 million deal with the Avalanche, but said the Lightning made it a "tough" decision.

"It was close," Iginla said. "I knew (the Lightning) were a very good young team, and only getting better. They've proved it in how they've played the first half."

Making it even tougher was Iginla's relationship with Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, who called him. The two played together for Team Canada in the 2002 Olympics, with Yzerman picking Iginla to be on the team in 2010 in Vancouver. Of course, Avalanche executive Joe Sakic also was on that 2002 team.

Iginla, an Edmonton native, said location played a role, having spent most of his career in Calgary, plus his three kids interest in playing hockey/winter sports.

"A big part of it is it's closer to home, and what we know," Iginla said. "Our kids like hockey, the winter sports and I think that being able to have those for them definitely played a role."


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Lightning to host first Family Carnival Sunday

Lightning center Brian Boyle grew up one of 13 children in his large Irish-Catholic family, so it comes as a surprise he’s never been to a carnival.

On Sunday, Boyle, 29, will be part of one. The Lightning holds its first Bolts Family Carnival from 1-5 p.m. at Amalie Arena.

Fans can participate with Lightning players, coaches and staff members in traditional carnival games. You can compete with captain Steven Stamkos in Wii video games (3-4 p.m.), take a shooting lesson with goalie Ben Bishop (3-4 p.m.), play air ice hockey with coach Jon Cooper (2-3 p.m.), put foward Nikita Kucherov in the dunk tank (1-2 p.m.) or hit forward Brett Connolly in the face with a pie (1-2 p.m.).

“It should be fun, obviously for a good cause,” Connolly said. “I don’t know how many pies to the face I can get in one day.”

General admission tickets cost $15 for kids and between $30 and $40 for adults, with activity vouchers included in each. All proceeds go to the Lightning Foundation. For more information, go to boltsfamilycarnival.com.

The Lightning modeled it after carnivals the Bruins and Flyers have done. …

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Matt Carle out through All-Star break

Lightning defenseman Matt Carle will likely be out through at least the All-Star break due to an undisclosed injury, coach Jon Cooper said today.

Carle suffered the injury during Thursday's 3-2 win over Edmonton at Amalie Arena. The Lightning say he's being evaluated. The 30-year-old veteran has been Mr. Durability throughout the course of his career, with tonight being the first game he's missed since the 2009-10 season with the Flyers.

The good news for Tampa Bay is that defenseman Victor Hedman, who missed two games with a lower-body injury, said he expects to play tonight. Cooper said he'll be a game-time decision. Cooper just doesn't know when Carle will be back.

Carle has four goals and 10 assists, a plus-10 in 46 games this season.

"I was concerned (defenseman Victor Hedman) was going to be through the break, now he's back," Cooper said. "(Tyler Johnson), thought he'd be more than one game. I honestly don't know for sure." …

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Vladislav Namestnikov sent down, Witkowski called up

With center Tyler Johnson back in the lineup, the Lightning reassigned center Vladislav Namestnikov to AHL Syracuse Friday.

But Tampa Bay also called up defenseman Luke Witkowski, who will provide a needed right-handed shot, as well as bring a big body (6-2, 200-pounds) with grit to the blueline.

Namestnikov was brought up Tuesday after Johnson suffered a lower body injury. Namestnikov played in two games, and practiced today, before getting sent back. Johnson returned to the lineup Thursday against Edmonton.

With Radko Gudas out for the season with knee surgery, Witkowski, 24, offers another right-handed option on defense, a physical player who can fight and keep opposing  players honest. Witkowski had one goal and five assists with 75 penalty minutes in 36 games for Syracuse this season.

Witkowski had a brief call up early this season, but has never played in an NHL game.

Defenseman Victor Hedman, who has missed two games with a lower body injury, hopes to return Saturday against the Avs.

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Victor Hedman hopes to return Saturday for Lightning

Victor Hedman suffered a lower-body injury in the first period of Monday's 7-3 loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia.

AP photo

Victor Hedman suffered a lower-body injury in the first period of Monday's 7-3 loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia.

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman participated in Friday's practice, and is hoping to return to the lineup Saturday night against the Avs.

Hedman suffered a lower-body injury in the first period of Monday's 7-3 loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia. He missed Tuesday and Thursday's game. But Hedman was encouraged how he felt after an hour skate Friday.

"It's a good step towards coming back," Hedman said. "Hopefully, tonight will be the night."

Coach Jon Cooper said Hedman will be a game-time decision. Hedman just wants to see how he reacts to today's skate. Hedman said it was a freak injury.

"It was something I haven't been through before," he said. "But obviously it feels better."

Center Tyler Johnson (lower body), who returned to the lineup Thursday, reported no problems. He participated in the power play portion of Friday's skate before heading back to treatment.

Center Vladislav Namestnikov, called up when Johnson got hurt, was at practice Friday. Cooper wasn't sure if Namestnikov would stay until the All-Star break or get sent down to Syracuse.

 

 

 

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Tyler Johnson returns for Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning never formally ruled forward Tyler Johnson out for Thursday’s game – with good reason, apparently.

After skating in the morning morning with a red, no-contact jersey, Johnson returned to the lineup Thursday against the Edmonton Oilers.

Johnson leads the team with 46 points and is second in the league in plus/minus and missed only one game because of the lower-body injury he sustained Monday.

He said before the game that he would leave his return up to the medical staff. Whether he appears in his first All-Star Game later this month will also depend on what the medical staff says, Johnson said.

Forwards Jonathan Drouin and Brenden Morrow and defenseman Victor Hedman were scratched tonight.

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Tyler Johnson returns to practice, Victor Hedman still out

TAMPA – Forward Tyler Johnson (lower-body injury) returned to practice Thursday in a red, no-contact jersey. Although he isn’t expect to play tonight, he could still return before the All-Star break.

“Very encouraging…” coach Jon Cooper said after Thursday’s morning skate at Amalie Arena. “He’s a lot closer than 77.”

No. 77 is defenseman Victor Hedman, who remains sidelined with a lower-body injury. He didn’t skate Thursday, and Cooper isn’t sure whether he’ll be ready to return in either of the other two remaining games before the All-Star break.

“Too hard to speculate on,” Cooper said.

Johnson seemed less sure of his status than Cooper. He said he’s feeling better since he left Monday’s 7-3 loss at Philadelphia with the injury.

“That’s up to the medical staff and the coaching staff,” Johnson said of a return date. “I’m just trying to get better every day, trying to feel better and see where that lands me.”

Johnson leads the team with 46 points and is second in the league in plus/minus (25). Those statistics helped him become a first-time NHL All-Star.

Given the injury, Johnson said he’s unsure whether he’ll even be able to play in the Jan. 25 game. …

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