Canucks will try to slow Lightning

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Tampa Bay Lightning are Stanley Cup contenders, but they are also developing their young talent pool.

Some observers say you can't do both, but the Lightning are trying as they battle for the top spot overall heading into Saturday's game against the Vancouver Canucks (21-24-6).

An example of a player who is making an impression is forward Matthew Peca, 24, who is starting to show signs that he can be a regular in the NHL after starting the season in the minors.

"I feel pretty fortunate to be up here right now," Peca told the Tampa Bay Times.

He has played five games this season after toiling in 10 in 2016-17.

"I think I'm a little more comfortable with the guys, with the system. I'm not thinking as much about every little detail, how to play," he said.

Peca has two goals and three assists in his five games. But the Petawawa, Ontario, native is taking nothing for granted as he battles to stick.

"A guy like me is always fighting for a roster spot," he told the Tampa Bay Times.

Coach Jon Cooper told the newspaper that Peca is playing because he is more desperate than some of his teammates right now.

Meanwhile, the Canucks, a long way from a playoff spot, will try to show that they can play with desperation more often while coming off a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night.

The Canucks are stoked after watching forward Brendan Gaunce post the first two-goal game of his NHL career against Chicago.

"We are so happy for him," center Bo Horvat told reporters. "He's worked so hard to get to that point.

Gaunce was Vancouver's top draft choice (26th overall) in 2012, but has been used mostly in a checking role and spending considerable time in the minors.

He went all of last season without scoring and has only five career markers.

"It's great to score goals," he said. "You gain confidence offensively."

Now, he and the rest of the Canucks will try to show that they can compete against a contender restocking young talent while striving to become one themselves.

The Lightning and Canucks are interesting contrasts in that they are trying to grow with young and aging superstars. Tampa Bay has a trio of superstars in Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman.

The Canucks are rebuilding with 37-year-old twins, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, two former NHL scoring champions, still playing prominent roles. The Swedish twins have not yet decided whether they will keep playing after the season.

The Sedins told general manager Jim Benning they will make their decision at the end of the season.

That affects Benning's trade-deadline decisions. But he told Sportsnet he is okay with that situation.

The Sedins have indicated they will stay if they do not feel they are hurting the team while also weighing family and other factors.

In the meantime, the Canucks try to get more competitive in their own way, and the Lightning try to take the final step to a Cup in their own way.

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