Lightning (34-18-6, 74 Points) vs. Panthers (24-26-7, 55 Points)
Last 10: Tampa Bay (6-3-1); Florida (3-5-2)
Season Series: Tampa Bay is looking to even up the season series tonight at two games apiece in the fourth of the six meetings. Florida took the first pair of meetings on the season, winning 6-0 on Oct. 16 and beating the Bolts in a shootout on Nov. 27. Tampa Bay cut the series deficit in half in the most recent matchup between the Southeast rivals, defeating Florida in a shootout at the BankAtlantic Center on Jan. 21.
The Big Story: After winning six straight games at the end of January, the Lightning have recently strayed off track, winning just two games in the six contests since then. The Panthers have coincidentally done just the same, picking up a pair of victories in their last six games as well. With the Lightning still vying for the top spot in the East and the Panthers attempting to climb closer to the eighth and final playoff spot, a win for both teams is crucial to keep pace down the final stretch of the season. Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman recognized that and as a result, acquired defenseman Eric Brewer from the St. Louis Blues yesterday, who is expected to skate in tonight’s game against the Panthers.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay is closing in on the conclusion of its record long 12-game home stand, with three left to play including tonight. The Lightning have collected five wins through the first nine games, but have dropped two straight and three of the last four after opening the stretch with three consecutive victories. Even in each loss, head coach Guy Boucher has expressed that he has been pleased with the team’s effort, as a tough schedule against some of the league’s top teams have been reason enough for the recent setback, including Thursday’s 6-2 loss to Detroit in the team’s most recent game. Tampa Bay fought back from two goals down to tie it for the second straight game after also drawing even following a two-goal deficit on Tuesday against Philadelphia, both of which have provided reason for Boucher’s praise of his team’s relentless effort lately.
PANTHERS – Florida kicks off a four-game road trip tonight in Tampa Bay before traveling through Long Island, Ottawa and Atlanta. The Panthers are playing in the second half of a back-to-back set tonight, as they hosted the Red Wings last night at the BankAtlantic Center in a 4-3 loss. Florida has to hope that the road will be kinder than their just-concluded five-game home stand. It comes in tonight having lost four of the past five games and is now nine points out of a playoff spot in the East.
Who’s Hot: Captain Vincent Lecavalier has goals in four of the past five games, while Steve Downie has lit the lamp in three of those five. Martin St. Louis comes in riding a five-game assist streak with six in that span. The Panthers’ Dennis Wideman scored in the team’s game last night and now has three goals and six points in his last three games.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Ryan Malone (mid body, out indefinitely) and Mike Lundin (out indefinitely). PANTHERS - Dmitry Kulikov (ankle), Evgeny Dadonov (finger) and Steve Bernier (flu, out indefinitely).
Notable Quotable: “Tampa Bay is obviously a very good team. They play well, and there's a reason why they are second in the conference. They're a very good skating team. They move the puck. Those are both things that are important parts of my game.” – Newly-acquired defenseman Eric Brewer upon his arrival in Tampa Bay
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