Wild vs. Lightning Preview

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TAMPA BAY, FL - Steven Stamkos is scoring at a staggering rate, but the Tampa Bay Lightning's problem is not many of his teammates are finding the back of the net.

Stamkos and the Lightning look to avoid losing for the sixth time in seven games Sunday night when they host the Minnesota Wild.

Through 16 games, Stamkos already has recorded 15 goals - three more than any other player entering the weekend. He scored his 15th in his 21st game last season, going on to finish with 51 goals to tie Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby for the NHL lead.

Oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made the Lightning –167 money line favorites for Sunday's game against the Wild. Current NHL Public Betting Information shows that 72% of more than 1,245 bets for this game have been placed on the Lightning -167.

Stamkos scored his seventh power-play goal of the season against the Penguins on Friday, but it wasn't nearly enough as the Lightning lost 5-1. Tampa Bay managed a season-low 16 shots, 11 at even strength, while playing without four regulars - including captain Vincent Lecavalier due to a broken hand suffered in Friday's loss at Washington.

"It's a battle right now," Stamkos said. "It's a big adversity test for our team. We got to find a way to battle through it."

The Lightning (8-6-2) have lost five of six, but Stamkos can hardly be blamed. The 20-year-old center has accounted for half of Tampa Bay's 12 goals in that span, scoring in the last four. He's the only Lightning player with more than one goal over the past seven games.

"We haven't been getting the bounces lately," Stamkos said.

The Wild (7-6-2) are experiencing similar problems.

Minnesota has scored one goal in losing each of its last two games, and has tallied two or fewer in eight of nine.

One goal was almost enough Friday against Florida, but backup goaltender Jose Theodore allowed two in a 53-second span of the first period and the Wild lost 2-1.

"It's tough when you put yourself in a hole like that," said Cal Clutterbuck, who scored his third goal in four games Friday. "Take away the first five minutes and it was a pretty good hockey game. Sometimes you don't get the bounces to climb out of it."

Starter Niklas Backstrom is expected to be back between the pipes after stopping 29 shots in Thursday's 5-1 loss to Atlanta. He was 3-1-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and a shutout in his previous four starts, and he's 3-0-1 with a 1.68 GAA and one shutout lifetime against the Lightning.

Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher could decide to start Dan Ellis in goal after Mike Smith struggled again Friday.

Smith stopped only 15 shots against the Penguins, falling to 0-3-0 with a 4.39 GAA in his last four games.

Smith has made eight starts and so has Ellis, who is 3-1-1 with a 1.66 GAA and two shutouts in his last five games despite giving up five goals Friday. Ellis, though, went 0-1-0 with a 6.74 GAA in two starts against the Wild last season with Nashville. Smith is 2-3-1 with a 1.58 GAA and two shutouts in six career starts versus Minnesota.

Stamkos helped the Lightning snap a three-game skid to the Wild in the only meeting last season on Nov. 12, scoring one goal and assisting on another before scoring the shootout winner in a 4-3 home victory.

Check out the latest odds for this game and all 2010 NHL Odds.

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