PANTHERS (1-3-0) at LIGHTNING (1-1-2)
Season series -- The Panthers prevailed 3-1-2 in the 2008-09 campaign, but the Lightning have a 10-5-2 mark against the Cats in the St. Pete Times Forum since Feb. 14, 2004.
Big Story -- Both teams come into this intra-state matchup needing a win, the Panthers trying to avoid a four-game losing streak after beating the Blackhawks in a shootout in their opener in Helsinki. Tampa Bay managed to snap a 12-game losing streak dating back to an 0-7-2 slump to end last season with a 5-2 win over the Hurricanes on Saturday. They haven't won two in a row since March 12-14, a 4-1 road victory in Toronto and a 4-3 shootout win in Florida.
Panthers -- Spending 23 of 29 days on the road will take a toll on any team, but the Panthers can't afford to fall into an early-season funk they could pay for in April. Four games against playoff teams in that stretch don't help. But defenseman Jordan Leopold said, "We can't use excuses. The past is the past. We can only look forward and our record is what it is. We have two points in four games. We have to get back at it. We have a good team."
The Cats did manage to put an end to an 0-for-15 slump on the power play when Stephen Weiss tied the Devils at 14:37 of the third period Saturday.
Lightning -- While not quite the world travelers the Panthers have been lately, the Lightning are certainly familiar with their struggles, which made Saturday's 5-2 breakout against the Hurricanes at home all the more appealing. Three third-period goals, two by Ryan Malone en route to his third career hat trick, broke a 2-2 tie and gave the Bolts their first win of 2009-10.
"The guys did a good job of keeping it even keel,” said Malone, who had two goals and four assists against Florida last season. “That’s what it’s all about. So it’s good to see everybody come together and get two points."
Goalie Antero Niittymaki, getting his first start with the Lightning after spending the last five seasons in Philadelphia, had to withstand a Carolina onslaught in the third period, stopping 10 shots in the final frame alone to preserve the win.
Who's Hot -- You can't get much hotter than a hat trick and Malone has that in his favor, while Martin St. Louis picked up a couple of assists to add to his team-leading 7 points.
Injury Report -- Lightning goalie Mike Smith sat out Saturday's game with general soreness resulting from getting run over by Jamie Langenbrunner, but could have played Saturday and expects to be ready for the Panthers.
"I should be back and ready to go," he told the St. Petersburg Times. "I could probably play (against the Hurricanes) and be fine. But (Niittymaki) deserves a shot, and I'm sure he'll come out and play real well."
Defenseman Kurtis Foster (lower body) missed his third-straight game and needs some "practicing and pushing and shoving before he gets out there," according to coach Rick Tocchet. David Hale remains out with what the team says is the flu.
Stat Pack -- Niittymaki is 4-2-1 with a 2.04 GAA in seven career starts versus Florida. The Panthers, on the other hand, continue to struggle with the shots on goal they allow. Tomas Vokoun has already faced 155 shots through four games, which leads the NHL. Cam Ward trails him with 150 and Ray Emery has seen 148, but both have played five games. Meanwhile, the offense is ranked 26th in the league in shots with 95.
Puck Drop -- "We have to get this right quickly. It’s only going to get tougher down the road. We don’t want to waste 15 games like we did last time. It’s probably the reason we missed the playoffs. Right now we’re just not playing well enough. That’s the bottom line." -- Tomas Vokoun talking about the Panthers' slow start.
-- Matt Mankiewich/NHL.com