Lightning (4-1-0, 8 Points) vs. Panthers (1-4-0, 2 Points)
TV/Radio: Sun Sports HD; AM 970 WFLA
Season Series: Tonight’s matchup between the Bolts and Panthers is the first of five meetings between the intra-state rivals. Last season the Lightning went 4-1-1 against the Panthers, including a mark of 2-1-0 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
The Big Story: Tampa Bay enters tonight sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference standings with eight points, just one shy of top-seeded Boston. With a perfect 3-0-0 record at the Times Forum, the Bolts look to not only stay flawless at home, but also extend their winning streak to a season-high four games and pad their first-place lead in the Southeast Division.
Florida, meanwhile, is hoping to reverse an ugly trend that currently has them on a four-game losing streak after earning its lone victory of the season in the opener back on January 19.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay continues on its season-high five-game home stand, with tonight being the third date on that current stretch. The high-flying Lightning earned yet another win on Sunday night, this time defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 5-1 for their third consecutive victory and the club’s fourth in five games on the year. Following an opposing goal just 59 seconds in that gave the visitors a 1-0 lead, Tampa Bay came back to score five times unanswered - getting goals from Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Teddy Purcell, Vincent Lecavalier and Eric Brewer - and received a 24-save effort from goaltender Anders Lindback, who has now posted three wins in four starts this season. The Lightning power play clicked again, going for two-for-five, while the team’s 26 blocked shots were a season-high.
PANTHERS – Florida travels a short distance north to take on the in-state rival Lightning before returning home to Sunrise for a single home game and then hitting the road again. After appearing in the postseason last spring for the first time since the 1999-00 season, it’s safe to say things haven’t gone as planned for the Panthers, at least to start the year. The Panthers earned a victory in the season-opener on January 19, but have proceeded to drop four straight games, allowing a combined total of 18 goals in those contests, while scoring just three goals of its own. Peter Mueller managed to get only one on the board in the team’s last outing, which came Saturday in a 7-1 loss to the Flyers. Jose Theodore started in net for the Panthers, but was pulled for Scott Clemmensen to start the second period after yielding three goals on just nine shots.
The Lightning’s Steven Stamkos has recorded at least a point in each of his team’s first five games to start the season, while defenseman Sami Salo enters the game on a three-game point streak marked by five assists and a plus-8 rating over that stretch. Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell not only leads the team with four points on two goals and two assists, but is also averaging a team-high 25:06 in ice time.
LIGHTNING – Mattias Ohlund (Knees, Placed On Injured Reserve) and Matt Taormina (Upper Body, Placed On Injured Reserve). PANTHERS – Kris Versteeg (Groin), Tomas Fleischmann (Skate Cut), Marcel Goc (Ankle), Sean Bergenheim (Groin) and Erik Gudbranson (Shoulder).
Panthers forward Sean Bergenheim spent the 2010-11 season with the Lightning and played an integral role in the team’s lengthy postseason run throughout the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Lightning power play has scored in four of the first five games this season. Tampa Bay ranks third in the NHL in faceoff wins with 185 and are sixth in faceoff win percentage at 52.3 percent. The Lightning have been prone to quick starts this season, as evidenced by the fact the club has outscored the opposition, 13-1, in the third period.
“We always knew we had the talent, but this year our defensemen that we added have been huge for us. It’s a huge part in winning games in this league, so as long as we don’t get satisfied and keep doing the things that have made it successful so far, we should stay right at the top of the league.” – Lightning forward Steven Stamkos, on the team’s recent success on the power play
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