Hot clubs meet as Lightning visit Blue Jackets

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It is far too early in the season to magnify the importance of one game, but the Thursday night matchup between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Tampa Bay Lightning pairs two teams hoping to make some noise this season.

Both teams are on their way to doing just that.

The Blue Jackets (5-1-0) are tied for first place in the Metropolitan Division after a 5-2 road victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night.

The Lightning (5-1-1) are second in the Atlantic Division after a 5-4 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils on the road Tuesday night.

Columbus coach John Tortorella is happy with the way the team is playing so far but has been around enough to know that the first few weeks won't define the season.

"No one is going to run away," Tortorella said. "That's what the league is, it's parity.

"I like the way that we've won games in different ways. (Tuesday) was probably our best game, our most consistent game, and we get rewarded. Having said that, you move on. You don't get too excited about it. You keep it flat line."

The Blue Jackets will be facing one of the hottest players in the NHL.

Nikita Kucherov has scored a goal in each of the Lightning's first seven games, only the sixth player in the league's modern era since 1943-44 to do so. Only Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux in 1992-93 has more goals in consecutive games (12) to start a season in the past 30 years.

The 24-year-old Russian extended his streak with his eighth goal of the season when he beat Devils goaltender Cory Schneider with a slap shot at 14:02 of the second period Tuesday. The Tampa Bay forward is second in the NHL in goals behind Washington's Alex Ovechkin (nine).

Kucherov's latest goal came on the second night of back-to-back road games, a stretch that began with a 3-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night.

In the overtime loss at New Jersey, Tampa Bay led twice but couldn't hold on.

"We didn't play as good as we wanted," Kucherov said, "but we got the point we needed and we move forward."

The Thursday game will end a three-game road swing in four days for the Lightning. A win against the Blue Jackets would give Tampa Bay five points on the trip.

"We took three of four (points), and now it puts the onus on us to get some points out of Columbus," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "Parts of our game we can tighten up, no question. The guys are working at it. I look at this team now compared to where we were two weeks ago, and I like the trajectory we're going on."

The same can be said for the Blue Jackets, who have won four straight after a 5-1 loss at Chicago in the second game of the season.

The Blue Jackets are getting contributions from throughout the lineup. Five players scored against the Jets, and 11 made the scoresheet.

"When we do that, we're a hard team to play," said Columbus captain Nick Foligno, whose second-period goal gave the Blue Jackets a 2-0 lead in Winnipeg. "It's Game 6, I think that was the message in there. We've got a long ways to go, and we've got to continue to keep pushing. ...

"We're playing really well right now, but we cannot let up."

The Blue Jackets swept the series last season, and the Lightning would like to take the first of three games in 2017-18.

"We've got a big game coming up against Columbus," Lightning backup goaltender Peter Budaj said. "The guys are playing really good hockey right now, and we've just got to tweak little things and keep working hard."

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