The personnel advantages the Sharks had in the first meeting (a 5-1 win) would be exacerbated by the absence of Steven Stamkos if they were not also without Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl. They need to do well in all three pictured keys to victory if they want to sweep both the season series and road trip in what is easily the toughest game of the three.
Even without their star, the Lightning have been able to hold onto the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Competition certainly has something to do with it—they would be a wild card in the Western Conference—but they deserve credit for battling without sudden stud Ben Bishop (1.90 goals against, .938 save percentage) in net, too.
While Stamkos is skating, he is not expected to be back this month. Bishop has been back for two games, allowing just two goals between them. Martin St. Louis is playing like he belongs on Team Canada, but the lack of support shows in that he was the only player to score in their fourth-straight home loss.
However, those four losses represent half of Tampa Bay's total home losses (14-5-3 overall), and they are 11-4-2 against the Western Conference. San Jose has a 14-10-3 record on the road and is an identical 11-4-2 against the Eastern Conference.
The Lightning have the desperation of turning around a four-game slide. They are a game behind the Atlantic Division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins and a game ahead of the Montreal Canadiens for home-ice advantage in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Sharks are coming off two road wins and the Anaheim Ducks finally lost, so the gap between them is less than five games for the first time in a week. The Los Angeles Kings are just three points back for second place in the Pacific Division and home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Ultimately, the urgency should be higher for Tampa Bay. That will keep San Jose from winning one of the three pictured keys, falling short in regulation.