GAME: Florida Panthers (20-23-11-3) at Tampa Bay Lightning (29-17-7-3).
TIME: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
The Florida Panthers probably won't be able to catch the first-place Tampa
Bay Lightning in the Southeast Division. A victory over the Lightning on
Saturday, however, could do wonders for the Panthers' playoff hopes.
Florida tries to win four straight games for the first time in three years,
and remain unbeaten in its last five against Tampa Bay when it begins a
season-high six-game road trip.
The Panthers trail the Lightning by 14 points for the top spot in the
division, but they've been able to make up some ground lately in their push for
a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Florida beat the Phoenix Coyotes 5-4 in overtime in its last game before the
All-Star break, and then returned to action with consecutive wins over Montreal
and Pittsburgh this week.
The Panthers have won three in a row for the first time since Feb. 18-22 of
last season, and are trying to win four consecutive games for the first time
since Feb. 10-19, 2001.
Florida's 5-1 home win over Pittsburgh on Thursday moved it past the New
York Rangers in the conference standings.
"It was obviously a big win for us," said Florida center Olli Jokinen, who
scored his team-leading 18th goal of the season. "For us, every game is big.
It was good to get a few wins here at home before hitting the road.
"The next road trip is going to be huge for us. We need four or five wins
there to stay in the hunt."
Tampa Bay continued its strong play Thursday, rallying from a 2-0 deficit to
beat Montreal 5-3 at the St. Pete Times Forum to extend its unbeaten streak to
three games (2-0-1).
"Obviously, it feels good coming back," Lightning center Vincent
Lecavalier said. "It proves we've got a lot of character. Everybody stepped up
to the plate. When we do that, I think we're a pretty dangerous team."
The Lightning are in the midst of an impressive stretch, having earned 29 of
a possible 36 points in their last 18 games. Tampa Bay has lost just twice in
regulation over that span, going 13-2-1-2.
The Lightning, however, have had trouble with the Panthers this season.
Florida leads 2-0-1 in the series, and is unbeaten in four straight against
Tampa Bay dating to last season.