NHL on NBCSN: Lightning’s Stamkos continues scoring race vs Penguins

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NBCSN’s ongoing coverage of the 2013 campaign will continue tonight when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Tampa Bay Times Forum at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Perhaps the scariest part about the Pittsburgh Penguins this season is that they’re still a threat to win even with some of their big names injured. James Neal and Sidney Crosby are out, but the Penguins still have Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla.

They played their previous five contests without defensemen Paul Martin or Kris Letang and they still won three of those matches.

At this point, Pittsburgh has already locked up its division and the only question is if it can claim the first seed.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is out of the playoff race, but that doesn’t mean this game is pointless. This will be a key test for goaltender Ben Bishop as the Lightning see if he can be just as successful with them as he was with Ottawa.

The Lightning traded away Calder Trophy candidate Cory Conacher to get Bishop and so far the move has paid off. However, Pittsburgh will arguably be his greatest challenge yet.

Bishop has only played against the Penguins once before and he was yanked halfway through that contest after allowing three goals on 20 shots.

This is also another key game in the Rocket Richard Trophy race. Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos is tied with Alex Ovechkin at 26 goals each. Stamkos has played in one less game, but given how hot Ovechkin has been lately, he needs every advantage he can get.

With 50 points, Stamkos is also attempting to surpass the injured Crosby and potentially win his first Art Ross Trophy. His teammate Martin St. Louis is also a candidate for the Art Ross Trophy with 49 points. St. Louis hasn’t won the award since 2003–04, so it would be special to see the 37-year-old reclaim it after that long of a gap.

Beyond that, the Penguins are going to battle hard in this game. Even if they don’t have much left to compete for from a seeding perspective, they want to avoid a third consecutive first-round exit. They can help prevent that by building momentum that they can carry into the playoffs.

At that point, they might have all their big-name players back and the Penguins will look even more dangerous…

Probable goaltenders: PIT – Marc-Andre Fleury (20-6-0, 2.31 GAA, .917 SV%) | TBL – Bishop (10-7-0, 2.35 GAA, .928 SV%)

Top scorers: PIT – Crosby (15-41-56, 36 GP) | TBL – Stamkos (26-24-50, 39 GP)

Notable Injuries:
Pittsburgh – Forwards: Neal (concussion), Crosby (jaw) Defensemen: Martin (hand), Letang (toe/groin – might return tonight)
Tampa Bay – Defensemen: Victor Hedman (lower body), Mattias Ohlund (knee) Goaltenders: Anders Lindback (ankle)