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Lightning need to make the most of upcoming home dates

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On one end of the schedule spectrum, you have teams merely looking to survive a tough stretch, with the Montreal Canadiens ranking high among them.

On the other end, you have teams that really need to thrive. The Tampa Bay Lightning are a prime example of that group.

It’s been a “one step forward, two steps back” kind of season for the Bolts, but their outlook could really change depending upon how they handle the next two weeks or so. (Or, you know, they can keep this pattern going by mixing wins and losses.)

Glance at the very promising opportunities the Lightning could enjoy:

Wednesday (Dec. 28): vs. Canadiens
Thursday (Dec. 29): vs. Maple Leafs
Saturday (Dec. 31): vs. Hurricanes
Jan. 3: vs. Jets
Jan. 5: vs. Predators
Jan. 7: at Flyers
Jan. 8: at Penguins
Jan. 12: vs. Sabres
Jan. 13: vs. Blue Jackets

That’s a five-game homestand and seven of nine games in Tampa Bay, a promising opportunity for a team that has played five more times on the road than at home so far in 2016-17.

Now, there’s no sense claiming that even a strong run would cure all of the Lightning’s ills.

For one thing, their schedule really lands itself to streaks. After all that home cooking, the Lightning face what could be a harrowing six-game road trip. Then they play four games at home, four on the road and another four at home.

With such erratic swings looming after this stretch, we may very well look back at these next couple weeks as a fork in the road for this up-and-down Lightning team.

Fight video: Flyers’ Manning vs. Penguins’ Gaunce

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Breaking: the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers don’t like each other.

The stakes might be higher for the Penguins than the Flyers – aside from those who still believe Philly has a shot at a playoff run – their rivalry rarely subsides.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Sunday featured at least one fight, with Cameron Gaunce squaring off against Brandon Manning in a pretty spirited bout.

Manning isn’t shy about fighting, by the way; this was his seventh bout of the season, according to Hockey Fights.

Higher on the radar for the Penguins is the situation for Conor Sheary, who has been absent from the ice since about midway through the first period. PHT will keep an eye out for updates on what could be yet another injury for the health-challenged Pens.

Dreading the work week? Watch this dog get ‘ice time’ with puck

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Life is difficult, complex and confusing. Good thing we have dog videos.

Forgive this video being one night late, but for those of us who watch cute animal clips, time is a furry circle. Or something like that.

Anyway, this golden retriever got a little “ice time” before the Washington Capitals’ game against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday in what would end up being a 4-1 win for the Caps. It’s an excellent video featuring a top-notch, hilarious pooch.

Alternate joke: Now that is some puck retrieval.

Patrik Laine’s out sick for Jets on Sunday

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Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews are locked with identical goals (34), assists (27) and points (61) on Sunday, which is remarkable since Laine has played in 67 games versus 75 for Matthews. He won’t get a chance to beef up his numbers on Sunday, either.

It looks like the high-scoring rookie is missing the Winnipeg Jets’ contest against the Vancouver Canucks because of an illness, according to TSN’s Sara Orlesky.

The Jets are almost assured to miss the playoffs, so seeing Laine lose a chance to bolster his Calder argument adds a little extra sadness to the night.

NHL schedules hearing for Micheal Haley’s sucker-punch on Calle Jarnkrok

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The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced a Monday hearing for San Jose Sharks tough guy Micheal Haley for his “roughing/sucker punch” on Calle Jarnkrok of the Nashville Predators.

The league didn’t specify if Haley will face a telephone or in-person hearing on Monday afternoon. They did, interestingly, use the phrase “sucker punch” in that official announcement.

Haley received a match penalty during the game. Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer was highly upset about the hit that inspired Haley’s actions.

“When you run someone from behind in a game like that, you probably deserve to get a punch in the mouth,” DeBoer told reporters.

In other bad news for the Sharks, CSN Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz reports that Logan Couture‘s situation isn’t looking promising after he was hurt on Sunday.