Not only do the Tampa Bay Lightning boast a 13-7-2 record versus the Atlantic Division, but they are 10-3-2 against tonight's opponent, the Florida Panthers, over their past 15 games.
Already claiming the Governor's Cup with three straight wins over their intrastate rival, Thursday's tilt is an opportunity for the Bolts to sweep their first-ever season series against Florida.
However, the club they've matched up so well with recently has a much different team and objective than they for the remainder of their schedule.
"I think there are eight different forwards playing for them," head coach Jon Cooper said. "The guys who are playing are fighting for contracts."
Forwards Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Pirri and Vincent Trocheck are just some of those Panthers that could upset the Lightning's success they've developed, as their end-of-the-year tryout has now upped the ante for Florida.
"As hungry as we are, wanting to stay in our playoff spot, these guys are just as hungry to make sure they're on the team next year," Cooper said. "It should be an intense battle."
Looking ahead, 12 out of the next 16 teams Tampa Bay plays also have less points than the Lightning in the standings, meaning that every opponent is guaranteed to be competitive for that reason.
COOPER HOPES IRONY PLAYS A PART
To begin the season Cooper had a conversation with Steven Stamkos regarding his play three games into the Bolts' schedule. Stamkos had yet to tally a point, but promised Cooper he was on the verge of producing.
That night, his fourth game of the season, Stamkos netted a hat trick against these same Panthers at home.
While the new Lightning captain does not feel he is back to his normal self with just three games under his belt since his return from injury, he believes every game gives him an opportunity to work on his conditioning and timing.
"The chances are there," Stamkos said. "It's not like I'm not getting my chances, they just haven't gone in the net."
Thursday is Stamkos' fourth game back since injury and ironically enough the opponent is Florida.
"Hopefully tonight," he said. "I can get some confidence back."
OTHER ODDS 'N ENDS
Ben Bishop will be between the pipes Thursday for the Lightning. Former Bolt Dan Ellis to get the start for the Panthers. Ellis appeared in 31 games for Tampa Bay during the 2010-11 season with a 13-7 record before being traded to the Anaheim Ducks for Curtis McElhinney mid-season.
Both the Bolts and the Panthers have collected four points each over their past seven games.
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