Season Series: This is the third of six meetings between two Southeast Division rivals who will play twice more this month. The teams have split their first two meeting this season with the Lightning winning 1-0 at home thanks to a Vincent Lecavalier goal and 28 saves from Dwayne Roloson and Winnipeg getting goals from five different players in a 5-2 home win on Nov. 14.
Big Story: Both teams are on the outside looking in as the Eastern Conference playoff race heats up. With 52 and 48 points respectively, Winnipeg and Tampa Bay are within striking distance of New Jersey, Toronto, and Florida, who are currently battling for the last two playoff spots in the East.
Thanks to a season-long five-game win streak, the Lightning may be rounding into the mid-season form just in time for a playoff push. The Jets, on the other hand, have lost three of their last four games and are in the middle of a season-long six-game road swing. They'll play five of their next six games on the road, a potential make-or-break stretch that will lead into a season-long eight-game homestand.
Jets: 2012 hasn't been kind to the Jets so far. The team went 3-8-1 in January before snapping a three-game losing streak with a 2-1 shootout win in Philadelphia on Tuesday night. Against the Flyers on Tuesday, Chris Thorburn scored his first goal of the season to tie the game 1-1 early in the second period. From there, Ondrej Pavelec held the fort as Philadelphia outshot Winnipeg 13-4 in the third period.
Overtime would decide nothing and Ondrej Pavelec couldn't be beat in the shootout as Bryan Little won the game by beating Ilya Bryzgalov. The win improved Winnipeg's shootout record to 2-3 for the season and gave the Jets a favorable position heading into the race for a playoff spot.
Lightning: January was a month of swings for the Lightning. After starting the new year with a season-long seven-game losing skid, the Lightning responded nicely by posting five straight wins, also a season high. Even with the five-game win streak, there is little margin for error if Tampa Bay hopes to avoid missing the postseason.
Hosting the division-leading Capitals on Tuesday, Tampa Bay raced out to a 3-1 lead in the second period thanks to goals from Martin St. Louis and Nate Thompson. But the Lightning allowed the Capitals to slowly creep back into the game and Troy Brouwer tied the game in the third period with his 15th goal of the season.
But as he has done all season, Steven Stamkos bailed the Lighting out in overtime by beating Tomas Vokoun to give Tampa Bay the win with his League-leading 33rd goal of the season. The game-winner was also Stamkos' sixth of the season, placing him only behind Johan Franzen and Evgeni Malkin, who have nine and seven respectively.
Who's Hot: Nik Antropov has been pacing the Jets attack of late, posting seven points in his last six games. … For the Lightning, Stamkos has been on fire, scoring 13 goals in his last 15 games while St. Louis has 12 points in his current seven-game point streak and Lecavalier has 10 points in the same span.
Injury Report: Evander Kane and Tim Stapleton, are out with injuries, but the rest of the Jets' roster is intact. Dustin Byfuglien and Alex Burmistrov will make their return from injury tonight. Byfuglien missed the last 16 games and Burmistrov missed two.
Victor Hedman recently returned to the Lightning lineup, but Mattias Ohlund (knee), Ryan Shannon (lower body), Adam Hall (forearm), Ryan Malone (upper body), and Marc-Andre Bergeron (upper body) are all likely out for Thursday night.
Stat Pack: Before the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets, the Lightning absolutely dominated that franchise. In the previous two season, the Lightning went 11-1-0 against the Thrashers, with Stamkos posting an impressive 21 points in those 12 games, including three game-winning goals.
Puck Drop: If the Jets hope to make the playoffs in their first season back in Winnipeg, they’ll likely want to start scoring more goals in the third period. Their 45 first-period goals ranks sixth in the NHL, but they rank last in the League in third-period goals, with just 32.