CHICAGO The site of the Blackhawk jerseys occupying the opposing bench Wednesday was somewhat of a welcome relief from the mundane of facing the same opponents every night.
"We've been playing our division quite a bit lately and I think everybody wants to see other teams," Lightning coach John Tortorella said.
The game against Chicago was Tampa Bay's first trip to the Windy City since March 3, 2004, when Nikolai Khabibulin stopped 27 shots in a 5-3 Lightning victory. Khabibulin, who got the start Wednesday, is now in his third season with the Blackhawks.
As part of the league's new scheduling format, which was instituted in the first year coming out of the lockout, teams are limited to 10 out-of-conference games each season, five each against two of the three divisions in the opposite conference.
This year marks the third year of a three-year cycle, and likely the last.
The Board of Governors are meeting in Pebble Beach, Calif., today and one of the main topics on the agenda is revamping the schedule format so that each team faces every other team at least once.
The most likely reported format will be just as it was prior to the lockout - six games against each division opponent (24 games), four games against the remaining conference opponents (40), 15 against the opposite conference and three wild-card games likely against out-of-conference opponents.
The general sentiment - Tortorella said seeing the same foes so often gets stale - is fans want to see different teams in their buildings.
"They want more variety," Edmonton Oilers part-owner Cal Nichols told the Glove and Mail. "If you see the same team too often, it gets a little boring. No discredit to the other teams. It's just human nature to think that way."
GOOD TIMING: When C Craig MacDonald received the call Sunday to return to Tampa, he couldn't have been happier to rejoin the Lightning. But it also meant he could be home with his wife, Amanda, who is expecting the couple's second child any day now.
"I've got the phone on all the time right now," MacDonald said.
The due date is Dec. 11, but the couple has an appointment to have the birth induced Wednesday, which was pushed back a day after his recall. The Tuesday date was set to accommodate the schedule if MacDonald was still in Norfolk.
Even with the worries of leaving his wife in Tampa when he was sent down on Nov. 13, MacDonald didn't let it affect his game.
NUTS AND BOLTS: D Filip Kuba returned to the lineup after missing one game with an abdominal injury. ... C Andreas Karlsson was a healthy scratch. ... Injured LW Ryan Craig and his wife, Jaydee, celebrated the birth of their first child, Carson Emery Craig, who was born Sunday at 5:51 p.m. at University Community Hospital. The baby boy weighed 7 pounds, 7 ounces and was 20 inches long. ... The Blackhawks have the letters "WWW" painted on the ice behind each net in memory of former team owner Bill Wirtz, who died earlier this season. The players are also wearing a similar patch on their jerseys below the right shoulder.