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Lightning (13-8-2, 28 Points) vs. Panthers (9-12-0, 18 Points)
Last 10: Tampa Bay (6-4-0); Florida (4-6-0)
Season Series: This is the second of six meetings between the in-state rivals, and the first of three at the St. Pete Times Forum this season. The two clubs last met on Oct. 16 in the first matchup at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, where the Panthers earned a 6-0 shutout.
The Big Story: Both the Lightning and Panthers come into tonight looking to bounce back from shutouts. The two clubs also seek to wrap up each team’s back-to-back set after playing the first contest of the two last night. Tampa Bay has won five of the last six overall and four of the last five at home, outscoring its opponent 17-7 in those four home wins. It is also 3-2-0 this season in the back half of games on consecutive nights.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay returns home to host the Panthers tonight after finishing up a one-game road trip in Washington last night. The team will travel once again following tonight’s game for a pair of games on the road in Toronto and Boston later on in the week. The Bolts have won five of the last six games overall, with its first loss since Nov. 14 coming last night against the division rival Capitals. Alex Semin recorded his second hat trick against the Lightning in as many games this season, and Semyon Varlamov stopped all 17 shots as the Lightning were shutout for just the third time this season.
PANTHERS – Florida kicks off a four-game road trip tonight at the Times Forum. Much like the Lightning, the Panthers are coming into tonight’s game after completing the first half of a back-to-back set last night against the Rangers, which was also a shutout. The Panthers were blanked by New York in Sunrise last night, as the Rangers got a goal three different ways – even strength, on the power play and shorthanded – to earn the win. Florida has lost four of the last six, including three of the last five contests on the road, in which the Panthers scoring no more than two goals in four out of those five games away from home.
Who’s Hot: Teddy Purcell has six points in his last five games, while Steven Stamkos has four points in his last three contests. Ryan Malone, Martin St. Louis and Steve Downie each have three points in their last three as well. Florida’s Michael Frolik has nine points in his last 11 games.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Simon Gagne (neck, placed on Injured Reserve), Vincent Lecavalier (hand, placed on Injured Reserve) and Matt Smaby (ankle, placed on Injured Reserve). PANTHERS – Bryan Allen (foot), Byron Bitz (sports hernia), Steve Bernier (fractured orbital bone), Rostislav Olesz (broken finger) and Jason Garrison (groin strain).
Quotable: “I've said it from the beginning. I love adversity because it makes you stronger and it makes you better. Because our guys on the fourth line are on the third line right now, and our third-line guys are our second-line guys, they get more ice time and more practice time in different situations. So, what we're seeing right now is these guys are getting better every game.” – Head Coach Guy Boucher, commenting on the improvement of his players despite role changes and injuries
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