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At the Rink: Panthers at Lightning

by Corey Long /

TAMPA -- The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning will face off in a possible Stanley Cup Playoff preview at Amalie Arena on Sunday.

The Panthers are in first place in the Atlantic Division, four points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings.

The Lightning have won their past four games and hold the first wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference with a game in hand over the Montreal Canadiens.

The only time each Florida team was in the playoffs in the same season was 1996. The Panthers advanced to the Stanley Cup Final and lost to the Colorado Avalanche in four games. The Lightning were eliminated in the first round, losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in six games.

The Panthers are at the end of a six-game, 12-day road trip. They're 3-1-1 after a 6-0 loss to the Calgary Flames on Wednesday.

"We want to keep climbing the standings," Panthers forward Brandon Pirri said. "We are where we want to be but it's really close. We can't be giving up any points any night. Whether it's one point, two points, we have to keep getting points. Now there are expectations every night that we are supposed to win. Anything less is unacceptable."

The Panthers have won each of their games against the Lightning this season. Defenseman Aaron Ekblad scored the game-tying goal with 20.2 seconds left in the third period en route to a 5-4 shootout victory on Nov. 14 at Amalie Arena. Two days later, the Panthers won 1-0 behind 39 saves from goalie Roberto Luongo and Ekblad's game-winning goal.

Ekblad will miss the game Sunday because he's still feeling the effects of taking a hit from Edmonton Oilers forward Matt Hendricks last Sunday. However, the Panthers aren't expecting a drop off in their play.

"During the 12-game win streak everyone contributed in a certain way, it wasn't just one line," Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov said. "Everyone, all the young guys on this team, realize what it takes to win."

Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said Florida's early-season victories and its recent 12-game winning streak got everyone's attention

"Obviously they've been on a terrific run and playing some good hockey right now," Stralman said. "[They are] a good team, they are on top of the division. It's going to be a big test for us. We need to play a lot better than we did [Friday]."

Coach Gerard Gallant said the Panthers must put the result in Calgary behind them and get off to a good start Sunday.

"Obviously the last game was very disappointing with a 6-0 loss," Gallant said. "We have to play real hard and play real well [Sunday]. It's all about playing 60 minutes."

Here are the projected lineups:


Jonathan HuberdeauAleksander BarkovJaromir Jagr

Jussi JokinenVincent TrocheckReilly Smith

Brandon PirriNick BjugstadLogan Shaw

Corban KnightDerek MacKenzieShawn Thornton

Willie Mitchell - Alex Petrovic

Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson

Dmitry Kulikov - Steven Kampfer

Roberto Luongo

Al Montoya

Injured: Aaron Ekblad (upper body), Dave Bolland (lower body)

Scratched: Quinton Howden


Ondrej Palat - Vladislav Namestnikov - Steven Stamkos

Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

J.T. Brown - Valtteri Filppula - Ryan Callahan

Jonathan Marchessault - Cedric Paquette - Erik Condra

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman

Jason Garrison - Andrej Sustr

Nikita Nesterov - Braydon Coburn

Matthew Carle

Ben Bishop

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Injured: Joel Vermin (hand), Brian Boyle (undisclosed)

Scratched: None

Status report: Boyle and Callahan did not practice Saturday because of what the Lightning called maintenance days. Callahan is in the lineup but Boyle is out. ... Ekblad did some skating at Saturday practice but is unlikely to return before Friday according to the Miami Herald.

Who's hot: Namestnikov had his first NHL-career hat trick Friday against the Pittsburgh Penguins and has eight points in his past four games. ... Huberdeau has six points (three goals, three assists) in his past five games.

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