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The Southeast Division rivals meet for the sixth and final time of the regular season. Florida took the first two meetings on the year before the Lightning earned victories in each of the next three after that, including two that went past regulation.
Both teams enter Saturday with postseason implications on the line. The Lightning have collected points in six straight games, including five wins in that span, that have them back in the playoff hunt and looking to get back to .500 with a win against the Panthers. Tampa Bay is just nine points behind Toronto for the final playoff spot in the East. Florida, meanwhile, has lost five of its past eight games and is clinging to the Southeast Division lead with a slim three-point advantage over Washington, although it did extend the margin with a 2-1 win over Winnipeg on Friday.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay plays in the second-to-last contest of the team’s current four-game home stand. The Lightning are taking points any way they can these days, even if that means gaining them in losses that have gone past regulation. That was the case Thursday night, when the club had its season-high five-game win streak come to a halt, but still managed to collect at least a point for the sixth consecutive game. Victor Hedman snapped a 25-game goal drought by scoring midway through the third period to erase a one-goal deficit and send the match into overtime, where Jets forward Kyle Wellwood got the second of 24 total shots on the night through Mathieu Garon for the game-winner. Tampa Bay outshot Winnipeg 31-24 in the game, including 15-7 just in the second period, but couldn’t convert on a plethora of quality scoring opportunities that factored into having its seven-game home win streak against the Winnipeg/Atlanta franchise come to an end.
PANTHERS – Florida completes the second half of a back-to-back set against Tampa Bay after earning a slim 2-1 win over Winnipeg Friday in the first half of games on consecutive nights. The Panthers are 3-0-1 in their past four outings and have won both of their games since the All-Star break, as they also beat Washington 4-2 on Wednesday. The opportunity to gain some ground in a tight division is staring the Panthers directly in the face. Florida capitalized on one opportunity Friday to increase its lead over the Capitals in the Southeast Division to three points. Kris Versteeg had a goal and although his club surrendered the early lead, yielding the tying goal to the Jets’ Bryan Little, former Lightning forward Sean Bergenheim came through with his first game-winner of the season to help the Panthers stay undefeated after the All-Star Break.
The Lightning’s Martin St. Louis is currently riding a season-high eight-game point streak with three goals and 10 points in that span, while Steven Stamkos has amassed points in two straight and in three of his past four. Florida’s Kris Versteeg has five points in his past three games for the Panthers.
LIGHTNING – Mattias Ohlund (knee, placed on Injured Reserve), Dana Tyrell (ACL, out for season, placed on Injured reserve), Adam Hall (forearm, placed on Injured Reserve), Ryan Malone (upper body, day-to-day) and Marc-Andre Bergeron (upper body, day-to-day). PANTHERS – Marco Sturm (concussion), Jose Theodore (knee), Scottie Upshall (abdominal surgery) and Jack Skille (shoulder).
“No, it's not discouraging. I found it encouraging that we played so well. We have two more opportunities at home and we don't want to change our focus. I tell our guys that everything is in front of us. There's nothing left behind” – Guy Boucher, on having his team’s five-game win streak snapped, but still managing to collect a point following Thursday’s 2-1 overtime loss to Winnipeg
Sean Bergenheim signed a four-year contract with the Panthers last summer, after spending 2010-11 with the Lightning. Bergenheim was second on the Lightning with nine playoff goals last season, after he had 14 goals and 15 assists in 80 regular-season games with Tampa Bay. Dominic Moore had eight goals and nine assists over 48 games with the Panthers at the start of the 2009-10 season, prior to a midseason trade to the Montreal Canadiens.
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