Fri, 05 Jun 2020

Lightning, Jets meet in December showdown

Sports Xchange
16 Dec 2018, 13:54 GMT+10

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- It's only December, but Sunday's game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place could be a preview of next spring's Stanley Cup final.

Both teams have been making a good case.

The Jets have won eight of nine games to push their record to 21-9-2 for 44 points, good for first place in the Central Division going into Saturday night's action.

The Lightning, meanwhile, have the best record in the NHL at 25-7-1 for 51 points and have won eight consecutive games, the second-longest winning streak in the league this season, trailing only the Buffalo Sabres' 10.

The Jets will be playing their third game in four nights on Sunday and are coming off overtime wins over the Edmonton Oilers (5-4) and Chicago Blackhawks (4-3) on Thursday and Friday, respectively.

The Lightning, meanwhile, dismissed the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1 on Thursday, their nearest rival in the Atlantic Division, and now embark on a four-game road trip.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper thought his team controlled one minute of that game and the Leafs controlled the other 59. But the Lightning scored two goals in the last minute of the second period.

"That was the game," Cooper told the Tampa Bay Times.

The Jets and Lightning split two games last season, with each team winning on home ice.

All eyes will be the Jets' Mark Scheifele, who scored the winner on Friday and has rocketed into the league's top five scorers in the last six weeks with 43 points, and Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who has 15 goals and 33 points in 33 games.

In addition to having 20 goals, sitting just three behind right winger Patrik Laine for the team lead, Scheifele also centers the No. 1 power play unit.

The Jets have scored eight times with the man-advantage in the past four games to move back into top spot in the league with a 30.2 percent efficiency. The Lightning are second at 29.3 percent.

Tampa Bay is the most prolific scoring team in the league with 134 goals and the Jets are third with 116.

Jets coach Paul Maurice has the utmost confidence in his assistant captain and believes Scheifele is playing the same type of hockey he was late last year when the Jets made it to the Western Conference finals.

"He's almost at that playoff level where he was last year," he told The Winnipeg Sun after Friday's game. "And (he's scoring) big goals for us, game-winners and from different places. He's just been great."

The battle of goaltenders will also be front and center. The Jets' Connor Hellebuyck has won five of his last six starts and Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy returned from an injury on Thursday to make 48 saves in his first action in more than a month.

Hellebuyck was second in voting for the Vezina Trophy last season for the NHL's top goaltender and Vasilevskiy was third.

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