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Players called up from AHL give Lightning a jolt

TAMPA — The Lightning has had more than its fair share of injuries this season with close to 100 man-games lost due to injuries, a lot to the top-line players.

This has forced the team to dip into its minor-league team quite often for help.

Instead of floundering, the young players have infused the Lightning with energy that has helped Tampa Bay get out of its early season woes and climb back into the Eastern Conference race.

Entering tonight's game against the Blue Jackets, the Lightning has 37 points and is just six points behind Atlantic Division-leading Montreal.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said the new players from AHL Syracuse who have come in have provided a lift to a squad that had been struggling. After starting 8-9-3, the Lightning won nine of its next 14 games before falling to the Canucks on Tuesday.

"I have to sit here and say our attitude has changed as a team," Cooper said. "In a sense we lost so many regulars and have so many new guys come in the lineup; I don't want to say the word invigorated us, but we've gone from a team that dwelled a little bit on last year and how things were going to a team that's completely different now. We're looking at the challenge ahead of us. That's been kind of an attitude change for us I say in the last three weeks.

"I can't say that's the reason we're winning, but that's a big part of how we hung in there in games," Cooper said. "We've had an attitude in the past that, 'Oh, we'll pull this out because that's what we did in the past,' whereas this group now is fighting for every inch, every shift. And I think it's kind of shifted our thought process, our attitude; I don't know the word I'm looking for, but our focus has changed. These guys are having fun, everybody from the regulars still in the lineup to the new guys. It's really given us a shot in the arm and we've won some games."

Jonathan Marchessault, Mike Blunden and Mike Angelidis have been a part of a group that has given Tampa Bay a boost.

Marchessault has points in the past five games, while Blunden and Angelidis teamed up for the winner against Ottawa on Sunday.

Some of Tampa Bay's injured players might return to the lineup shortly.

Cedric Paquette returned to action in Tuesday's loss to Vancouver after missing 15 games. Jonathan Drouin (lower-body injury) practiced Monday and Tuesday and could be the next to return to the lineup. Tyler Johnson (upper-body injury) said he is day to day.

Even if no one returns tonight, Cooper is sure the replacements will be flying around.

"It's been a big reason why I think we're having some success here," Cooper said. "Because all of these guys are just coming up and they're battling and they're having fun."

Lightning vs. Blue Jackets

7, Amalie Arena

TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 970-AM

.TONIGHT

Lightning vs. Blue Jackets

When/where: 7, Amalie Arena

TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 970-AM

Key stats: The Blue Jackets (13-20-3, 29 points) are in last place in the Metropolitan Division, having won three of their past 12 (3-6-3), including a 2-1 home loss to Tampa Bay on Dec. 14. The Blue Jackets have allowed 112 goals, second most in the NHL. Scott Hartnell leads Columbus with 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists). This is the third game of a six-game homestand for Tampa Bay. The Lightning is 17-15-3 (37 points) and is in sixth place in the Atlantic Division but just six points behind first-place Montreal. Tampa Bay is 4-4-0 against the Metropolitan Division this season. Lightning forward Jonathan Marchessault is on a five-game point streak, a season high for Tampa Bay. Lightning goalie Ben Bishop has played 198 NHL games.

Rick Brown, Times correspondent

Players called up from AHL give Lightning a jolt 12/25/15 [Last modified: Friday, December 25, 2015 8:52pm]
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