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Wednesday, Jul 18, 2018
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Lightning face Blues in showdown between NHL’s top two teams

The Lightning's west coast trip will start with a bang tonight in St. Louis.

Tonight's game will pit the top two teams in the NHL, with Tampa Bay (21-6-2) atop the Eastern Conference, the Blues (21-8-2) the No. 1 team in the West.

Fittingly, an NBCSN-audience will get to see it.

The Blues are banged up, without forward Jaden Schwartz (six weeks) and defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester. But with both teams having won four straight,  this should be a heck of  a matchup.

"They're without some guys, but I know they've got enough talent and skill to make this a really good game," Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. "This is going to be a measuring stick for us. We're looking forward to it."

The Lightning dropped three of four games on its last road trip before sweeping a four-game homestand. Tampa Bay appeared to regain some of its confidence, and edge, playing with the kind of dogged determination that sparked its historic start. Tampa Bay beat St. Louis 2-1 earlier this season at Amalie Arena.

"It's a team that has the ability to score, but more than that, they're hungry to score," St. Louis coach Mike Yeo said of the Lightning. "They're dangerous off the rush, they're dangerous in the offensive zone, they can score by making plays and finding seams and creating movement but they can also score at the net. Great challenge for us to see how we defend against that tonight."

LINING UP

The Lightning appears to be going with the same lineup as Saturday, with Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. D Slater Koekkoek looks like he's drawing in, with J.T. Brown and Andrej Sustr scratched. D Braydon Coburn will miss his fifth straight game, but participated in some of today's morning skate. Cooper said he's hopeful Coburn will play on this four-game trip, but it is not guaranteed.

STICKING WITH IT?

Forward Cory Conacher had said he'd hoped to stick with the Lightning this time around, and so far, so good. Conacher will play in his fifth straight game, on a line with Alex Killorn and Yanni Gourde.

If Conacher plays 10 cumulative games, or is in the NHL for 30 days this season, he'd have to clear waivers to get sent back to AHL Syracuse. But if Conacher keeps it up, he may not have to worry about it.

"He's been in the lineup and hasn't come out," Cooper said. "He's earned his right there. We don't hand out lineup spots like Halloween candy. You've got to earn them, and he's earned his spot."

WINGING IT

Tyler Johnson hasn't played very much wing in his career, primarily sticking to his natural center position. But lately, Johnson has had success on the right wing, first on a line with Steven Stamkos and Vladislav Namestnikov. On Tuesday, Johnson will be back with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat as the Namestnikov-Stamkos-Kucherov line is reunited.

Johnson said with the Lightning's system, there isn't much difference playing center and wing. But the move has benefited Johnson, who has three multi-point games in his last four games, and is riding a four-game point streak, tying his season-high.

"It's nice you get up in the zone a little bit more, create some speed in transitional play," Johnson said. "You're more of a north-south, straight up and down kind of game. And playing with those guys, they're great players, it's a lot of fun."

NUTS AND BOLTS

Cooper is very familiar with a few Blues, having coached forward Brayden Schenn and defenseman Colton Parayko for Team Canada at the summer's World Championships. "He's awesome, I really enjoyed playing for him," Parayko said. "He's a coach that's willing to help out in all areas."

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