Monday, March 08, 2004

GameDay: vs. Tampa Bay (39-17-7-5, 90) 7:30 EST

In the only meeting between the clubs this season, the Wings will host the red hot Tampa Bay Lightning at the Joe, in what will be a battle for first place in the league in two respects. The Lightning are coming into the game 18-1-1-2 in their last 22 games, with reigning NHL player of the month (January and February) Martin St Louis on fire with a league leading 80 points (32 G, 48 A). Tampa Bay is also currently first in the league with 90 points. Detroit is second in the league with 89 points, and newly-acquired center Robert Lang is second in the league in scoring with 78 points (29 G , 49 A). So this game could put the Wings back at first in the league and propel Lang into first in league scoring. Essentially, it will be a bragging rights game for the entire season for the teams (unless of course we meet in the Cup Finals) Returning to the ice tonight is Defenseman Derian Hatcher, who tore his ACL in the Wings' October 16 win over Vancouver. Bryan Allen and Hatcher had a seemingly minor collision, but the news came out after the game that new Wing Hatcher would be out, effectively, until the start of the playoffs. For a guy who has only played 3 games for his new team, his fourth being tonight in game 68, Hatcher is expectedly nervous: "Honestly, I'm nervous. I haven't been nervous in a long time playing, but it's been a long time, and it's almost like going through training camp and playing my first games with a new team again. I was nervous opening night, and I'm sure it'll be about the same." He will be eased back into the mix, according to associate coach Barry Smith: "We'll keep it safe, about 12 to 14 minutes, and go game by game from there." It'll be exciting to see a new guy on the ice after that fateful last Wednesday that left Datsyuk (2 weeks), Dandenault (month), and Draper (month) out. Hopefully Derian brings that much sought-after physical presence to the blue line. In addition, Curtis Joseph will be back on the Wings active roster after an extended recovery, following a sprained ankle suffered on a fluke collision behind the net. He will backup Manny Legace, who will get his 14th start in 17 games. Manny is 9-2-2 in his last 13 starts. The Wings are 10-2-1 in their last 13 decisions. Still out is Jason Woolley with his bad back. It has seemed like, whenever a timetable has been given for Wings' injuries this season, it has been pushed back multiple times. And this is no exception. Woolley has undergone setbacks as he has tried to work out and practice with the team more and more. I don't want to even try giving a definitive return date for Woolley, because it's a day-to-day injury analysis. I do expect him back within the next 10 days, though. The Wings need to play like they have the past two games, in their defensive wins over Calgary and Vancouver. For the third-highest team in scoring (Wings are second), and boasting the leading scorer in the NHL, the Wings need to forecheck hard and concentrate on shutting the Lightning down offensively. The Lightning have two formidable lines: a line of Brad Richards, Cory Stillman and Fredrik Modin and a line of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Ruslan Fedotenko. It's an interesting proposition to consider a 2004 Cup Finals matchup between the Wings and Lightning. For what is generally considered as a weak division, we've seen quite a few Southeast Division teams make the Cup Finals. The Wings faced Carolina (2002, 4-1 series) and Washington (98, sweep), and the Avs faced Florida (96, sweep). I wonder if the Lightning are the next victim?


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