By Dave Vest
TAMPA BAY – The Coyotes will try to match the franchise record for victories in a season tonight when they play the Tampa Bay Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum. The puck drops at 4:30 p.m. (Arizona time).
The franchise won 43 games in 1984-85 as the Winnipeg Jets. This year’s team already has notched 42 victories with 13 games to play.
Ilya Bryzgalov will be back in goal for the Coyotes tonight. He last played on Saturday and made 29 saves to blank the Carolina Hurricanes for his NHL-leading eighth shutout.
Coyotes right wing Lee Stempniak, whom the NHL on Monday named its Second Star of the Week for last week, will look to extend his goal-scoring streak to four games.
Phoenix (42-22-5) hasn’t lost since March 2 and is 5-0-0 since acquiring Stempniak and four other players on March 3 just before the trade deadline.
“I’m encouraged that the transition has been seamless,” Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney said on Monday. “All and all, all five of the players we’ve brought in have done a nice job and we’ll continue to work hard to get better. Unfortunately, nobody behind us in the standings is losing so we can’t take our foot off the pedal.”
This is the second game between the Coyotes and Lightning this season. On Nov. 16 in Glendale, Tampa Bay captain Vincent Lecavalier scored twice, goalie Mike Smith stopped 30 of 31 shots and the Lightning won 4-1.
Tampa Bay (28-28-12) has won just two of its past 10 games and ranks 10th in the Eastern Conference standings, four points behind eighth-place Boston.
Center Steven Stamkos, the top overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, leads Tampa Bay and ranks third in the NHL with 42 goals. Stamkos, 20, is nursing a sore back and his status for tonight’s game is uncertain.
"I think I'll be good to go," Stamkos told the St. Petersburg Times. "I can't see myself not playing."
Antero Niittymaki is expected to start in goal for Tampa Bay.
Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is 4-0-0 with a 0.99 goals-against average and two shutouts in his past four starts.
Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier has notched five goals and one assist in the past six games. His 61 points rank third on the team.
Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata played 18 games for Tampa Bay in 2008-09 before leaving the team to play in the Czech Republic. The Lightning traded Vrbata to Phoenix last summer for forward Todd Fedoruk and defenseman David Hale.
Coyotes center Martin Hanzal, who played only three shifts on Sunday because of an upper-body injury, likely will return to the lineup. Hanzal scored two goals in Phoenix’s 4-0 win at Carolina on Saturday.
In addition to tying the franchise record for wins in a season, the Coyotes also will be trying to match their longest winning streak of the season – six games.
"We're finding ways to win. We're maybe not playing our best at all times, but we've got a lot of character and we're working hard and we're having lots of fun out there. It's a great atmosphere."