With a playoff berth secured, the Tampa Bay Lightning still have a chance to enter the postseason as division champions.
The Lightning (44-32-4) look to win their fourth straight game and set up a possible showdown for the Southeast Division title as they meet the Florida Panthers on Friday night.
Tampa Bay was idle on Thursday, but clinched a playoff berth after the New York Rangers' 3-1 win over Montreal. The Lightning have 92 points, leaving them one point behind division-leading Atlanta which also plays Friday night against Carolina.
Tampa Bay will travel to Atlanta for the final regular-season game between the teams on Saturday night. The Lightning are 5-2-0 against the Thrashers in 2006-07.
First, the Lightning need to get past the Panthers, against whom they've been outscored 11-4 in two straight losses. Overall, Tampa Bay is 3-3-1 against Florida, but needs a big game from Vincent Lecavalier
Lecavalier leads the league with 52 goals and is third with 107 points. Against the Panthers, though, the top overall pick in 1998 has managed only two goals and four assists. Lecavalier and Dan Boyle scored less than 2 minutes apart early in the third period to defeat Carolina 3-2 on Tuesday and eliminate the defending Stanley Cup champions from the playoff chase.
"We're trying to build that intensity that you need in the playoffs," said Lightning forward Eric Perrin, who also scored.
Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay's second-leading scorer with 101 points, has a six-game point streak versus the Panthers with four goals and five assists.
Florida (34-31-15) will be trying to avoid its first three-game skid since Feb. 3-8. The Panthers were shut out for the ninth time after falling 1-0 to Washington on Tuesday.
Backup goaltender Craig Anderson faced only 17 shots, but gave up Alexander Ovechkin's goal early in the second period.
"It just seemed like it was going to be one of those games where it was going to be a low-scoring game," said Panthers coach Jacques Martin, whose team needs three points in their final two games to surpass last season's total of 85.
Nathan Horton already has set career highs with 30 goals and 29 assists, and his play against the Lightning has been a big reason behind that. In seven games, Horton has eight goals and 11 points - the most he's recorded in both categories versus one team. The third overall pick in 2003 also has recorded two goals in each of his last three games versus the Lightning.
Olli Jokinen also has played all seven games against Tampa Bay, totaling three goals and seven assists. The Panthers' leading scorer with 37 goals and 49 assists, Jokinen needs four points in the last two games to set a new career high.
Florida wraps up its season Saturday night against Carolina.
|Apr 06 '07||FLA 7 at TBL 2||D. Booth|
|Mar 27 '07||FLA 5 at TBL 2||O. Jokinen|
|Mar 03 '07||TBL 2 at FLA 6||S. Weiss|
|Feb 20 '07||FLA 2 at TBL 3 - SO||M. St. Louis|
|Feb 17 '07||TBL 4 at FLA 5 - OT||N. Horton|
|Nov 22 '06||TBL 6 at FLA 4||R. Craig|
|Oct 14 '06||FLA 1 at TBL 4||M. St. Louis|
|Oct 13 '06||TBL 2 at FLA 3||J. Bouwmeester|