As Thanksgiving approached last year, neither the St. Louis Blues nor Tampa Bay Lightning could have imagined they were months away from authoring two of the most remarkable stories in recent NHL memory.
The Lightning will look to take another step toward authoring their own Blues-esque tale Wednesday night when they host St. Louis in a Thanksgiving Eve clash.
Both teams were off Tuesday after playing Monday, when the Lightning beat the visiting Buffalo Sabres 5-2 and the Blues absorbed a second straight loss to the Nashville Predators by falling 3-2 in a road shootout.
The win was the third in a row for the Lightning, who have outscored the opposition 15-6 since their 3-1 loss to the Blues on Nov. 19.
With a win Wednesday, Tampa Bay will reach Thanksgiving with just three fewer points than it had at the same time last season — a season in which the Lightning tied an NHL record with 62 wins a stunning sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the playoffs.
“You want to have your team in spot to make the playoff point-wise, which I believe we are,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, whose team has played the fewest games in the NHL (21) but entered Tuesday with the 10th-best point percentage (.619) in the league.
“The consistency of our game is getting better. Our goals against are getting better. We’re still continuing to score. If we keep that trend going, wins will follow.”
No matter what happens Wednesday, the Blues, who entered Tuesday atop the Central Division with the second-most points in the Western Conference (34), will reach the holiday with at least twice as many points as they had entering Thanksgiving last year, when they ranked next-to-last in the NHL with 17 points and had just fired Mike Yeo as head coach and replaced him with Craig Berube.
The Blues, of course, continued struggling for several weeks and had the fewest points in the league entering play Jan. 3 before mounting a stunning run that ended with St. Louis winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history (and giving another pop culture life to the 1980s hit song “Gloria”).
The Blues picked up where they left off by racing out to a 12-3-3 start, though the loss Monday was their fifth in seven games (2-2-3). Still, Berube was pleased with St. Louis’ effort after falling behind 2-0 in the first period and forcing overtime on Brayden Schenn’s goal with 6:41 left.
“We played a good third period,” Berube said afterward. “Battled back and got a point out of it.”
A pair of number one goalies, the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Blues’ Jordan Binnington, are likely to oppose each other Wednesday.
Vasilevskiy earned the win Monday, when he made 28 saves against the Sabres. Binnington last played in the opening game of the back-to-back set against the Predators on Saturday, when he took the loss after making 39 saves as the Blues fell, 4-2.
Vasilevskiy is 3-2-1 in eight regular season games against the Blues. Binnington is 3-0-0 in three games against the Lightning.
–Field Level Media