Lightning (44-25-11, 99 Points) vs. Panthers (29-39-12, 70 Points)
Last 10: Tampa Bay (5-3-2); Florida (1-6-3)
Season Series: The Southeast Division rivals conclude the six-game season series tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum. Florida has taken four of the first five meetings from the Lightning, with all but one of the Panthers’ victories decided by just a single goal. The Lightning’s lone win on the season came back on Jan. 21 at the BankAtlantic Center when Dominic Moore helped lead Tampa Bay to a 2-1 victory in the shootout.
The Big Story: The Lightning will wrap up the home portion of the regular season tonight, which includes a special tribute to fans, as tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum will mark Fan Appreciation Night. Tampa Bay is still seeking to break through the 100-point plateau for just the second time in franchise history, as well as inch closer to gaining home ice advantage through the first round of the postseason. Currently Tampa Bay sits in fifth place with 99 points, three behind fourth-place Pittsburgh.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay will play its last game of the 2010-11 regular campaign in front of the home crowd tonight and will leave immediately following tonight’s contest and head to Carolina, whom it will play tomorrow night to conclude the regular season in the team’s final back-to-back set. The Lightning enter tonight’s game with five wins in their last six after having a five-game win streak snapped in the club’s most recent game on Tuesday night, a 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Vincent Lecavalier returned to action and scored a goal after leaving Sunday’s game early with an eye injury and Ryan Malone also scored his second goal since coming back from injury, but it was a hat trick by the Sabres’ Thomas Vanek that led Buffalo to victory.
PANTHERS – Florida will travel to Tampa Bay to play the Lightning tonight to wrap up a two-game road swing against a pair of division foes. The Panthers will return home to close out the regular campaign on Sunday against the Southeast Division champion Washington Capitals. Florida’s recent struggles have summarized the way the entire season has gone for the Panthers, who with 70 points, are last in the Eastern Conference and 28th in the NHL out of 30 teams. The Panthers have just one win in their last 10 games, with the club’s most recent victory coming Mar. 17 in a 4-0 shutout of the Maple Leafs. They come in tonight riding a nine-game losing streak and look to finish the season on a high note with a pair of wins against the Lightning and Capitals in their two remaining regular season games.
Who’s Hot: Martin St. Louis comes into tonight riding a seven-game points streak with 10 points in that span and Simon Gagne has points in six of his last seven, totaling four goals and six assists. Vincent Lecavalier also has scored a goal in two straight for the Lightning and has points in all but one of his past nine contests. Florida’s Sergei Samsonov has four assists in as many games and Marty Reasoner comes in with a three-game points streak for Florida.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Randy Jones (lower body, day-to-day) and Victor Hedman (lower body, day-to-day). PANTHERS – Stephen Weiss (groin), Tomas Vokoun (back), Shawn Matthias (ankle), Alexander Sulzer (groin), Scott Timmins (concussion), Rostislav Olesz (knee) and Byron Bitz (sports hernia).
Notable Quotable: “It’s opportunities missed. It’s momentum. It’s just finding a way. Hopefully, it happens next game. You just have to keep on being optimistic. You just keep shooting. It’s bound to go in. You just hope it turns around heading into the playoffs.” – Steven Stamkos, on his desire to start scoring again.