ON THE ROAD WITH DAVE MISHKIN
Tampa Bay Lightning @ Florida Panthers
Greetings from Sunrise, where the Lightning square off against the Florida Panthers tonight at the BankAtlantic Center. It’s the fifth contest in the season series between the clubs – the teams have split the first four games with the home team winning all four. Congratulations to Marty St. Louis for being named to his fourth NHL All-Star Game. Also, congrats to Filip Kuba, who will be playing his 500th NHL game tonight, and Jason Ward, who will be appearing in his 300th NHL contest this evening.
The Lightning are coming off a 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, a game in which Tampa Bay generated 20 scoring chances. John Tortorella stated after the game that “we need to score. We are not built to win games 2-1 or 1-0. We have to score three, four, five goals a game. We have a young goaltender who is up and down, and is going to be up and down. We have a young defense that is going to make mistakes. We have to protect them by creating more offense, and we did create offense, but we didn’t score.”
Scoring at least three goals a game is not an impossible task. Prior to Thursday’s game, the Lightning had scored three or more goals in four consecutive games, all on the road. Certainly, Tortorella’s assessment holds true for tonight’s game as well. The Panthers have not been an offensive juggernaut this year, tied with the Rangers and Devils for the second fewest goals (excluding shootout goals) in the Eastern Conference. But the Panthers have played very well against the Lightning over the past couple of seasons, particularly in Sunrise, and have netted 10 goals in their two home wins over Tampa Bay this year. So tonight, the Lightning have to figure that they’ll need plenty of offense of their own.
That may not be easy against the Panthers, who, thanks to the offseason acquisition of goaltender Tomas Vokoun, have shored up their defensive play this season. Vokoun has gone 19-17-2 with a 2.65 GAA and yesterday was deservedly named to the Eastern Conference All-Star Team. Working in the Lightning’s favor, however, are the number of injuries the Panthers have sustained on their blue line. Branislav Mezei, Cory Murphy, Mike Van Ryn and Noah Welch are all on the shelf. Florida acquired Magnus Johansson from Chicago on Thursday to help the blue line, but that might be an area the Lightning can exploit. Up front, the Panthers have not avoided the injury bug either. Ville Peltonen, who has a couple of goals against Tampa Bay this year, will miss his 13th consecutive game with a foot injury. Josef Stumpel suffered a separated shoulder on Thursday vs. Atlanta and also won’t play tonight.
In their last road game, the Lightning jumped out to a 4-1 second period lead over the Rangers en route to a 5-3 victory. The formula needs to be the same in this contest. If the Lightning can score, and score early, they’ll put themselves in a great position to win their second straight on the road.