Prior to the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning might have pegged this stretch against four of the Central Division’s five playoff teams from 2014-15 as their most difficult road trip.
The first three have been tight games requiring at least overtime, so how they grade the trip’s results leans heavily on the outcome of Tuesday night’s matchup with the St. Louis Blues.
After Saturday’s 1-0 overtime loss to Chicago, the Lightning are 1-0-2 on the trip, which started with a 5-4 shootout loss against Nashville and 4-3 victory over Winnipeg.
Even though the Stanley Cup Final rematch again left Tampa Bay (5-2-2) on the wrong side, coach Jon Cooper drew positives.
"We’re on a pretty tough road trip here going through the Central Division, and we’ve pointed in every game," Cooper told the team’s official website. "We’ll take that as a positive."
A negative has been the production of Tyler Johnson. The center had 13 goals in 26 playoff games after scoring a career-best 29 during the regular season, but he’s still waiting for his first. He’s scored in two of his last three against the Blues, as has Steven Stamkos.
In goal, rookie Kristers Gudlevskis faced the Blackhawks, so Ben Bishop figures to conclude the trip. Bishop, who played the first eight games, might have been showing some fatigue with a 3.21 goals-against average over a 2-1-1 span. He’s 1-2-1 with a 3.28 mark against the Blues.
St. Louis (5-2-1) has won the last three meetings and five of six while limiting the Lightning to 11 goals, though it’s out to end a two-game skid after Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Islanders.
It was the Blues’ first game without Jaden Schwartz after he broke his ankle Friday in practice, and they’ve already been without Paul Stastny (broken foot). The absence of two key forwards has them with two goals in two contests, but coach Ken Hitchcock was pleased with the bulk of the game.
Alexander Steen sent it to overtime after the Blues entered the third down 2-0, and the forward has two goals and three assists in his last three against Tampa Bay.
"I thought we played great in the second and third," Hitchcock said. "Guys gave a lot, gave a lot in the second and gave a ton in the third."
But he also noted the disruption caused by the injuries. The Blues were also without defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (lower body) and Robby Fabbri (concussion), but both are expected to rejoin the lineup Tuesday.
"It just seems to be one of those weeks, it really threw us for a curve," Hitchcock said. "We jumbled lines all over the place."
The defeat began a five-game homestand, and an 0-for-8 mark in the consecutive losses has their power play (13.8 percent) near the bottom of the league. Tampa Bay, though, is near the bottom in penalty kill at 72.0 percent even after a 10-for-10 effort over the last four games.
The Blues will start Jake Allen in goal with Brian Elliott dealing with an illness. Allen, the team’s first choice for the playoffs, has ceded time to Elliott after a slow start.
Allen is 1-2-0 with three goals allowed in each game, though all came on the road. He went 6-2-0 with a 1.61 GAA in his last nine at home in 2014-15, surrendering more than a goal twice.