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Lightning (28-15-5, 61 Points) at Panthers (21-20-4, 46 Points)
Last 10: Tampa Bay (6-4-0); Florida (5-3-2)
Season Series: This is the third of six meetings between the two Southeast Division clubs. The teams have met twice so far this season, playing a game each in the other’s home arena. The Lightning have yet to beat the Panthers this season, but did gain a point in a shootout loss at the St. Pete Times Forum on Nov. 27 after dropping the season series opener 6-0 in Sunrise on Oct. 16.
The Big Story: Tampa Bay plays its final road game tonight before beginning its NHL-record 12-game home stand Sunday versus Atlanta. Despite having yet to earn a victory this season against the Panthers, the Lightning sit in second place in the Eastern Conference, nine spots ahead of Florida who has 15 less points than its Southeast rival. The Panthers, however, are just three spots out of the final playoff position and have hung in there recently by earning points in three straight games, as each of those last three contests have been decided in extra time.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay wraps up a two-game road swing tonight and completes the second half of the team’s 12th back-to-back set this season. Tonight will be the team’s last game played on the road until Mar. 2 when it travels to New Jersey to take on the Devils. The Lightning are seeking to kick off their franchise-record 12-game home swing on the right foot with another win tonight against Florida. The Bolts got halfway there last night following the team’s 10th consecutive victory over the Atlanta Thrashers, an NHL record. Steven Stamkos had a pair of goals for the second consecutive game and Dominic Moore scored the game-winning tally in the shootout, the team’s second consecutive victory in the tiebreaker. The win also marked the team’s fourth victory this season when trailing after the first 40 minutes, tying them for the second-most in the league.
PANTHERS – Florida finalizes the last game in its season-long six-game home stand tonight. The Panthers will then do just the opposite following tonight’s game, playing six consecutive games on the road starting Sunday in New Jersey. Florida has points in three straight after taking each of its last three games to either overtime or a shootout. It has dropped the last two in the extra session, however, falling 3-2 to the Blue Jackets on Wednesday. Cory Stillman and David Booth gave the Panthers an early two-goal lead in the first period, but Tomas Vokoun surrendered the game-tying goal with just 53 seconds left in regulation before giving up the game-winner to R.J. Umberger with 54 seconds to play in overtime.
Who’s Hot: The NHL’s leading goal scorer has six goals in his last four games for Tampa Bay during a four-game point streak and Victor Hedman has four assists in his last five games after having a career-high four-game assist streak snapped last night in Atlanta. Florida’s Mike Santorelli has seven points in as many consecutive games and Cory Stillman has amassed five assists and six points in his last five. Dmitry Kulikov has five points in three games as well for the Panthers.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – None. PANTHERS – Bryan McCabe (broken jaw), Byron Bitz (sports hernia) and Chris Higgins (lower body, day-to-day).
Notable Quotable: “He changed his expectations. Expecting to come out and be this offensive threat and doing it all because it’s going to make him worthy of a first-round pick was the biggest obstacle in his mind. He's realizing he doesn't have to be Bobby Orr.” – Head Coach Guy Boucher, on the improving play of defenseman Victor Hedman
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