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NHL: Vegas Golden Knights @ Tampa Bay Lightning preview

The Tampa Bay Lightning began a four-game home stanza with a 5-2 victory over Philadelphia Flyers on which snapped a five-game losing skid, and they next welcome the Vegas Golden Knights to Amalie Arena.

Vegas on the same night lost the first of a five-game road trip 2-1 to Florida Panthers. 

Tampa Bay are an excellent 23-5-4 at home this season and Vegas are 17-7-5 on the road, and a win is important for both teams for varying reasons. 

WhatVegas Golden Knights @ Tampa Bay Lightning
WhereAmalie Arena, Tampa Bay
When7:00pm EST, Thursday, March 9, 2023
How to watchESPN+, Hulu, SN, TVAS / NHL.com
OddsVGS Golden Knights +150, TB Lightning -170

Aiming to build momentum

Lightning coach John Cooper benched the Lightning's star players, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Brayden Point in a game against Buffalo Sabres during the losing run which was followed by a 6-0 hammering by Carolina Hurricanes. 

The skid led to questions again about whether the Lightning are playing tired following three consecutive runs to the Stanley Cup Final in which they won twice. 

But as they tend to do, the Lightning bounced back against the Flyers with their top point scorer Nikita Kucherov leading the way with two goals. 

The Russian sits third in the league with 91 points (25 goals, 66 assists) from 64 games and he has his sights set on reaching 100 points for the third time in his nine season NHL career. 

Forward Alex Killorn scored twice and afterwards challenged the Lightning to keep building momentum as they head towards a second consecutive meeting with Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

The Lightning are five points behind the Leafs in the Atlantic Division and currently won't have home ice advantage, but that didn't matter last season as they won Game 7 at Scotiabank Arena before marching on to the Final. 

Tampa Bay are +900 to win the Eastern Conference and reach a fourth straight Final and +1700 to re-claim the Stanley Cup from Colorado Avalanche (+650).

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Fight for Pacific title

The Vegas Golden Knights are in a tight fight for the Pacific Division title, currently sitting level on points with Los Angeles Kings and two ahead of Seattle Kraken. 

Vegas, +110 to win the division, missed the playoffs completely last season, in large part due to long-term injuries to several key players, and the bad luck has continued into this season. But, under new coach Bruce Cassisdy they have managed to deal with it far better.

With Captain Mark Stone and goalies Logan Thompson and Robin Lehner on the side-lines, the Golden Knights crucially brought in veteran netminder Jonathan Quick from the Kings and forward Ivan Barbashev from St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline and the pair have quickly fitted in. 

37-year-old Quick won his first start and his experience of winning the Stanley Cup twice with the Kings will be key for a side who are +1400 to win their first championship this season. 

Centreman Barbashev, 27, has five points which includes two goals in five games since joining the Golden Knights.

Tight encounter in prospect 

Both Tampa Bay and Vegas expect to be a Stanley Cup contender and each are built to be able to be one. 

The pair met for the first time in late February at T-Mobile Arena in Vegas where the home side won on an off night for the goalies 5-4. 

Despite the high score-line, the game featured a relatively low number of shots (50) and with a well below average .840 save percentage, the Lightning's Andrei Vasilevskiy especially will be seeking a far better effort around his current .916 season average. 

With a .833 save percentage, Hill recorded the win but he too wouldn't have been pleased with his season average matching Vasilevskiy's .916.

The Lightning have conceded an average of 3.06 goals per game (15th) and despite their issues with health in net, the Golden Knights have bettered that by allowing 2.75 per game (eighth). 

Led by Point's 39 goals, Tampa Bay average 3.48 goals per game (sixth) while Vegas whose top scorer is Jack Eichel with 23 have scored an average of 3.13 goals per game (17th). 

Lightning striking on powerplay 

The Lightning scored three times on the powerplay to help end their skid against the Flyers, and they will again look to their special teams to play a factor. 

Tampa Bay's 26.2% powerplay ranks second in the NHL and will go up against a Golden Knights' penalty kill which has been inconsistent at times, ranking 15th at 79.7%. 

On their powerplay, Vegas convert at 20.6% which is 19th and they too will fancy their chances against a Tampa Bay kill which is 14th at 80.1%. 

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