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aliciahuangIconLightning return home, host Hurricanes08:39 10.01.18 

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The oasis in the middle of a rough January for the Tampa Bay Lightning is a three-game homestand, surrounded by nine road games.

And as Tampa Bay returns to Amalie Arena for Tuesday night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, they still carry the NHL’s best record at 30-9-3, including a 3-1-1 mark on their just-completed five-game road trip.

“We believe in each other in this room,” said center Steven Stamkos of a recent two-game stretch that saw the Lightning lose to Montreal in a shootout and in regulation at Ottawa. “I don’t think anyone feels entitled. We just didn’t play the right way.”

That consecutive games without a win is cause for alarm speaks to how well the Lightning have sustained their success this season. Tampa Bay leads the NHL in goals per game, ranks second in goals allowed and also has the league’s No. 3 power play, converting 24.7 percent of its opportunities.

That’s a daunting challenge for the Hurricanes, who come to Tampa with a 19-14-8 record, but has gone 1-2-1 since, one point outside the current Eastern Conference playoff picture. Carolina ran off a 7-1-0 stretch, bouncing from a 4-0 win at Pittsburgh to a 7-1 loss at Boston as they continue a four-game road swing.

“They’re good defensively,” coach Bill Peters said of Tampa Bay. “People don’t talk about that, that they’re good defensively … And obviously they have a real good power play.”

Carolina doesn’t rank higher than 20th in any of the major statistical categories — left wings Teuvo Teravainen (11 goals, 22 assists) and Sebastian Aho (13 goals, 20 assists) are tied for the team lead with 33 points.

They would rank fifth on the Lightning, which has the NHL’s top point-getter in Nikita Kucherov (59), also tied for the league lead with 27 goals. Stamkos has 17 goals and 34 assists to tie for fourth in the league with 51 points.

As Peters mentioned, the high scoring has obscured perhaps the most impressive part of Tampa Bay’s first-place start. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy leads the NHL with 26 wins and ranks second in goals-against average, allowing only 2.04 per game.

The Lightning lost backup goalie Peter Budaj to injury, Louis Domingue, but got a win at Detroit from his replacement, who went 0-6 with Arizona before he was traded.

Tampa Bay got good news Monday when they learned that veteran defenseman Dan Girardi is only day-to-day after taking a high shot to the back of his head and neck as he tried to block a shot in Sunday’s win at Detroit.

Cooper called the play “one of the scariest things I’ve seen” in hockey, grateful to not have a more significant injury to a key addition to his lineup this season.

As much as Carolina is overmatched, it was 2-1 with three minutes to play, Peters needs only point to the team’s first meeting in Raleigh in October. While it ended up a 5-1 win for Tampa Bay, very much up for grabs before the Lightning pulled away.

Tampa Bay hopes to get the most of their three-game stop at home — they’re back on the road the rest of the month, save a few of their best players getting to play on home ice for the NHL All-Star Game, which is played in Tampa this month.

Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi, one of the league’s most fearless shot blockers, having just witnessed Girardi take a rocket slap shot from the Red Wings’ Martin Frk off the back of his neck. Girardi immediately tossed his stick and gloves, lay face-first on the ice at Little Caesar’s Arena early in the second period. The building was silent, crumpling to the ice, trainers from both teams coming to his aid. Teammates Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman knelt by his side before helping him skate off into the room.

"One of the scariest things I’ve ever seen in hockey," coach Jon Cooper said.

That’s why it was so encouraging — even more than the 5-2 victory over the Wings — that Girardi was okay, greeting teammates between periods with his usual jokes.

"He was himself, jokes," Stamkos said. "He was making, laughing.

"The usual ‘G’,?’’ said wing Ryan Callahan, one of Girardi’s closest friends.

Girardi didn’t return to the game, but returned to Tampa with the team to undergo more tests. He may have played less than half the game, but he made enough of an impact to get named the third star. Girardi scored the first goal, on a nifty re-direction, adidas Connor Hellebuyck jersey,of course, midway through the first. He assisted on the second one, tipping a shot to the back post where Tyler Johnson put it in. Then, were Girardi’s two blocked shots, a key cog of a penalty kill that thwarted two Detroit 5-on-3.

"The kid has guts, man,Authentic Jake Allen jersey," Cooper said.

So did the Lightning (30-9-3). The night before in Ottawa, Cooper delivered a pointed message in his postgame news conference,adidas Philipp Grubauer jersey, saying that "entitlement’ had started creeping in with the league’s best team.

This wasn’t pretty, but Tampa Bay found a way — in the second half of a back to back, with its backup goalie in — to finish a five-game road trip with seven of 10 possible points.

"I thought it was outstanding,Authentic Steven Stamkos jersey, back to back,adidas Michael Hutchinson jersey," Cooper said. "You challenge these guys and they continue to answer the bell. This was an easy one to mail in. It’s a five-game road trip, you go through customs (Saturday night). Pretty gutty effort by the guys."

This was an impressive Lightning debut for Louis Domingue, who stopped 34 of 36 shots in his first NHL start since getting dropped by the Coyotes in late October.

The players showed some fight in a chippy game befitting two division rivals who dislike each other. Yanni Gourde had two goals and his first career Gordie Howe hat trick (goal, assist, fight). Nikita Kucherov scored his league-high matching 27th.

"We believe in each other in this room," Stamkos said. "I don’t think anyone feels entitled."

Said Callahan: "Everyone here knows how to play. Call it what you want. Call it entitlement,Authentic Philipp Grubauer jersey, call it getting comfortable. The good thing about this group is we know how to self-check and self-evaluate."

Girardi, in the first of a two-year, $6 million deal, and is a key cog on the penalty kill. He’s also a presence in the room and in the community. There’s a reason that Girardi, like Callahan, is part of that leadership group. He’s fit in perfectly on the third pairing with Braydon Coburn, is a former captain with the Rangers. Cooper said when they were going to sign Girardi in the summer, he asked former Rangers teammate Anton Stralman who he modeled himself after in New York. Stralman said Girardi.

Teammates gravitate toward him, calling him one of the funniest guys in the room. That’s why it wasn’t a surprise for teammates to see Girardi making light of his situation between periods.

"He’s a guy that’s going to lay everything on the line for teammates," Johnson said. "He looked like he was in a lot of pain. But he looks good now, so we’ll see."

I remember asking Girardi what goes through his mind when he’s trying to block a shot, saying he doesn’t think about it at all, stepping in front of a rubber puck going 100 miles per hour. Girardi laughed, or it’ll drive him crazy.

It’s unclear when Girardi will be back on the ice. The next game is Tuesday at home against Carolina. But you can bet, the next time a sharpshooter winds up, Girardi will jump in front of it.

"There’s no doubt in my mind when he’s back on the ice," Callahan said. "That’s how he’s made, he’ll be doing the same thing, that’s how he’s built. That’s what’s made him so successful."

He's right about that. The Detroit Red Wings have lost nine in a row in the regular season against the Lightning, gaining only one of a possible 18 points during that stretch. Including the playoffs, Tampa Bay has beaten Detroit in 13 of their past 14 meetings.

The Red Wings will try to snap that streak Sunday at Little Caesars Arena, in their final game before a five-day "bye week."

The good news is Detroit has won a season-high four in a row and five consecutive home games. The bad news is, goaltender Jimmy Howard, the player most responsible for this run, is out with a lower-body injury.

Petr Mrazek will make his first appearance since a 6-3 victory Dec. 19 at the New York Islanders. Mrazek is 1-7-1 during the regular season against the Lightning, with a 3.63 goals-against average and .867 save percentage. He's played well against them in the playoffs, however.

The Lightning have the best record in the NHL . They lead the league in goals per game, are second in goals against and tied for second on the power play.

"I feel we've always played good against them, but they always find a way to get that last goal to push them over the edge,Authentic Nicklas Backstrom jersey, played hard games," Detroit's Gustav Nyquist said.

Nikita Kucherov leads the league in points and is tied with Washington's Alex Ovechkin for the lead in goals. His center, Steven Stamkos, is tied for second with 50 points and leads the NHL with 12 power-play goals.

"You certainly want to beat that team," Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "They're winning tons of games, they're a real good team, you're frustrated you haven't won more games against them. I got to listen to a bunch of crap in the summer, so I don't like that very much, but we play lots of good teams. From our standpoint, so we want to go out and find a way to win, it's a big game for us. We want to stay on a roll."

The Red Wings are getting results but feel there is much room for improvement. They didn't play well in Friday's 4-2 victory over Florida, getting outshot 40-19.

"We're getting the results that we want. I don't know if we're necessarily playing the way we want to for 60 minutes," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "There are bits and pieces that we're doing right, Authentic Michael Hutchinson jersey,but we got to be better than we were the last game."

Andreas Athanasiou is on a roll, with four goals and one assist in four games, his center, during which time he's registered 21 shots on goal. Larkin, has 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in his past 10 games.

"We play them well," Larkin said. "I think that a common theme when we play against them is we give them tons of opportunities on the (power play). We've got to be able to control our emotions and not give them fourth and fifth opportunities on the power play. They've got a ton of weapons and two good units. If you're giving them any chances,adidas Carter Hutton jersey,adidas Steven Stamkos jersey, obviously not good enough, they're going to score."

The Red Wings were five points out of the final wild card playoff spot in the East heading into Saturday's games - with three teams in between.

"We've won four games in a row but at the same time still looking up quite a bit in the standings, so we got to put together a lot more wins here in the second half and hopefully get into a (good) spot," Nyquist said.

The Detroit Red Wings will be without red-hot goaltender Jimmy Howard when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning at Little Caesars Arena on Sunday night.

Howard will miss the game with a lower-body injury suffered in the second period Friday night in a 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers. Howard, who made 38 saves against Florida,adidas Jake Allen jersey, did not come out of the game.

“He tried to skate this morning and couldn’t do everything he wanted to do to be comfortable to play,” Blashill told after Saturday’s practice.

The Red Wings (17-16-7) have won four straight overall and five in a row at home — both season highs — while 5-0-2 in their last seven at Little Caesars Arena. Howard has been the key to those streaks with a 1.65 goals-against average and .952 save percentage in his past six starts.

Petr Mrazek will get the start Sunday.

Mrazek is 3-4-1 with a 3.64 GAA and .892 save percentage this season. His most recent appearance was Dec. 19, when he made 34 saves in a 6-3 road victory over the New York Islanders.

“Pete’s had some great games against Tampa over his time here, but he’s certainly had some great ones if you go back to playoff series, not every one,Authentic Connor Hellebuyck jersey,” Blashill said. “I think he’s worked hard to put himself in position to be ready and now he’s got to play well.”

The Lightning have beaten the Red Wings in nine consecutive regular-season games,adidas Nicklas Backstrom jersey, and 13 of the last 14 including the playoffs.

Tampa Bay has lost two in a row for the first time since Nov. 24-25.

Backup goalie Louis Domingue could start for the Lightning since Andrei Vasilevskiy played Saturday night, making 27 saves.

The Lightning trailed 3-0 after the first period, got goals in the second period from defensemen Victor Hedman, Slater Koekkoek and center Yanni Gourde in the second for a 3-3 tie after two periods. But Ottawa scored three more goals in the third period.

“I think there is a little bit of entitlement running through our team right now, who in my opinion has been our MVP this year,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said after Saturday night’s game. “What is a little discouraging is our goaltender, for us to let him down like that … those goals going in at the start of the (first) period were men’s league goals. That’s just a non-commitment to play in your own end.

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