LIGHTNING (6-6-1) at PANTHERS (4-6-3)
TV: NHLN-US, NHLN-CA, SUN, FS-Florida
Last 10: Tampa Bay 4-5-1; Florida 3-4-3
Season series: Second of five meetings between these Southeast Division rivals. The Lightning beat the Panthers 5-2 on Jan. 29 as part of their 6-1-0 start to the season. Vincent Lecavalier, Cory Conacher, Dana Tyrell and Tom Pyatt each had a goal and an assist, and Anders Lindback made 28 saves.
Big story: A pair of teams from the Sunshine State whose fortunes haven't been too bright lately look to get things pointed back in the right direction. Tampa Bay took early control in the Southeast only to come plummeting back down to earth saddled by a six-game losing streak. Florida, the defending division champ, has dropped its last three.
Lightning: Not only has Tampa Bay been passed by Carolina for the Southeast lead, the rest of the division is fast catching up as the Lightning have gained only one point in the standings since thrashing the Jets 8-3 on Feb. 1. The Capitals, almost left for dead after a dreadful start, drew within two points of the Lightning by handing them a 4-3 loss at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Thursday. Teddy Purcell and Nate Thompson scored in the final eight minutes to close the gap, but it wasn't enough.
"We keep digging ourselves a hole," Purcell told the Tampa Bay Times. "We just have to do a better job of making it a closer game and not have to climb back."
Panthers: While its opposition Saturday still ranks first in the NHL in goal scoring despite some recent struggles, Florida has averaged just 2.23 goals per game due largely to injuries and inconsistency. The Panthers were blanked for the second time in three games and the third time already this season when the Canadiens' Rene Bourque scored 2:50 into overtime Thursday night to deal them a 1-0 loss. Jose Theodore had stopped all 31 shots he faced until Bourque connected.
"It's frustrating anytime you lose in overtime," defenseman Brian Campbell said. "We're just trying to get some wins here and one point is not going to do it. We just have to pick up and keep going and be ready."
Who's hot: Martin St. Louis picked up a goal and an assist Thursday for the Lightning -- the assist was his 15th of the season, giving him the League lead entering Friday night's action.
Injury report: Tampa Bay forward Ryan Malone is out for 3-4 weeks with a lower-body injury. … Florida forward Kris Versteeg missed Thursday's game with an upper-body injury and is day-to-day. Defensemen Ed Jovanovski (knee) and Michael Caruso (wrist) and forward Scottie Upshall (ankle) are on injured reserve. Forward Sean Bergenheim (undisclosed) is also out.
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