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Thrashers Host Lightning in Big Southeast Division Clash

11:30 AM, Dec 26, 2010   |    comments
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(Sports Network) - An important Southeast Division battle will take place tonight in Atlanta, as the host Thrashers try to avoid a third straight loss when they take on the surging Tampa Bay Lightning at Philips Arena.

The Lightning enter tonight with 45 points and are tied with Washington for first place in the Southeast Division. The Capitals will also be facing a divisional opponent tonight in Carolina.

The Thrashers, meanwhile, are just two points behind the Bolts and Capitals, but Atlanta has lost its last two contests after gaining a point in eight out of nine games (6-1-2) from Dec. 4-20.

The Lightning hope to continue their recent dominance of the Thrashers as they aim for a ninth straight win in the series tonight. Tampa Bay has won all three meetings so far this year and has also taken the last three encounters in Atlanta.

Tampa Bay is still in the midst of a point streak, having compiled a 5-0-2 record over its last seven games. The Lightning recently earned split in consecutive games in the New York area, losing an overtime decision to the Islanders on Wednesday before beating the Rangers in the shootout stage the following night.

With 45 points in 34 games, the Lightning are off to the best start in team history.

"With the crazy schedule we had, 15 of 21 games on the road, we wanted to survive above .500. We did more than that," Tampa Bay head coach Guy Boucher said of his team's record at this stage of the season. "Our short-term goal was to be first in our division by Christmas. It just shows how much character the guys have."

Tampa Bay recorded a 4-3 decision at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, as Ryan Malone scored in the 11th round of the shootout to lift the Bolts past the Rangers.

Martin St. Louis had a goal and an assist for the Lightning. Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier also scored in regulation for Tampa Bay, which got 34 saves from Dan Ellis.

The Lightning, who are 10-8-3 as the guest this year, are playing the last test of a three-game road trip tonight. The Bolts will begin a three-game homestand Tuesday night against Boston.

Atlanta was dealt its second straight regulation loss Thursday night in Boston, dropping a 4-1 decision to the Bruins. Shawn Thornton scored a pair of goals and Tim Thomas made 26 saves to lead the B's to the victory at TD Garden.

Dustin Byfuglien provided the lone goal for the Thrashers, while Ondrej Pavelec allowed all four goals on 36 shots in defeat.

Byfuglien has scored a goal in two straight games and is leading all NHL defensemen in goals (13) and points (37) this season. He has two goals and two assists in six career games against Tampa.

Another Atlanta blueliner, Zach Bogosian, is an injury concern for the Thrashers tonight. Bogosian missed the last game with an unspecified injury, but he may be able to return to the lineup tonight.

The Thrashers have a 10-7-2 record on home ice this year, but they have lost three of their last four games at Philips Arena.

The Sports Network

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