Coyotes-Lightning Preview

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Phoenix Coyotes find themselves in the midst of tight playoff races, but neither club has done much to help their own cause lately.

Both teams will try to break out of post-Olympic-break lulls Monday night when they meet in Tampa.

Tampa Bay (34-24-6) is currently in the driver’s seat for an Eastern Conference wild-card spot and is two points back of Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division.

However, the Lightning have dropped four in a row and are 1-4-1 since play resumed following the Olympics. They’re averaging just 25.3 shots during that stretch compared to 30.2 previously.

They were outshot 32-20 at home in Saturday’s 4-3 shootout loss to Boston. The Bruins’ Reilly Smith was the only player to find the net in the shootout, scoring in the seventh round. Richard Panik’s ensuing attempt for Tampa Bay hit the post, dropping the Lightning to 3-5-3 at home since starting the season 14-3-1.

"We, at least, got a point out of this one, so it’s definitely a step," coach Jon Cooper said. "This is the best we’ve played since the break."

Ryan Callahan assisted on Mark Barberio’s second-period goal for his first point with the Lightning since being acquired from the Rangers on Wednesday in exchange for Martin St. Louis.

Steven Stamkos posted a minus-2 rating Saturday and is without a point in two games since returning from a broken right tibia.

Phoenix (29-24-11) sits three points behind Dallas for the West’s second wild-card spot but is 2-3-1 since the break. The Coyotes, who have dropped 10 of 11 away from home, will likely have to sort out their road woes in order to reach the postseason.

Monday’s contest marks the second on a four-game trip for the team, which plays 10 of its final 18 away from home.

The Coyotes are coming off a 3-2 loss at Washington on Saturday. Mike Smith’s bid for his third shutout in eight games ended at the 9:45 mark of the third when Karl Alzner recorded the first of three unanswered goals by the Capitals.

Phoenix also blew a 2-0 advantage entering the third period in their previous loss, a 4-2 setback against St. Louis on March 2.

"It seemed like we stopped playing the way we played in the first and the second," said Radim Vrbata, who got his 18th goal of the season after scoring twice in Thursday’s win over Montreal. "When you have a 2-0 lead going into the third, you have to find a way to win, and we didn’t."

Smith owns a 1.78 goals-against average and .940 save percentage over his last nine starts. He stopped 27 shots in a 6-3 home win over the Lighting on Nov. 16. Tampa Bay pulled Ben Bishop early in the second period after he surrendered three goals on 14 shots.

Bishop has struggled lately, posting a 2.99 GAA in five starts since the Olympic break. He has been one of the league’s more consistent goaltenders this season, recording a 1.98 mark over his first 44 starts.

Martin Hanzal had a goal and three assists in the first meeting for his second career four-point performance, while Vrbata had three assists.

Tampa Bay had won 10 of 12 in the series prior to that loss.