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Lightning chase division lead as they visit Panthers

by Brian Hunter
LIGHTNING (38-22-8) at PANTHERS (27-32-9)


Last 10:
Tampa Bay 4-4-2; Florida 2-6-2

Season series:
Fifth of six meetings this season between these Southeast Division rivals. While the Panthers trail the Lightning by 21 points in the standings, they've gotten the better of this season's Sunshine State series with a pair of shootout victories at Tampa and a blowout win on home ice early in the season. The Lightning did prevail in Florida on Jan. 21 via the shootout.

Big story: With the Capitals idle Saturday, the Lightning have a chance to draw within two points in the division. Tampa Bay had a lengthy run this season leading the Southeast, but has played average hockey of late while Washington extended its winning streak to seven games on Friday.

Team Scope:

It wasn't long that Curtis McElhinney wore a Tampa Bay uniform and he never actually got into a game before he was placed on waivers and claimed by Ottawa. Still, there might have been a revenge factor Friday when McElhinney came back to the St. Pete Times Forum and stopped 34 shots in his first action since a start for Anaheim back on Feb. 23. Martin St. Louis beat him for a power-play goal in the third period, but the Lightning lost 2-1 to the Senators, who are last in the Eastern Conference but have seven wins in their last 10 games.

"We need to figure out how to play a full 60 minutes," defenseman Mike Lundin said. "We do it against teams like Chicago and other teams at the top of the standings. We need to do it against every team because points are just as valuable no matter who you play."

The team got much younger around the deadline and now Florida is just seeking to play better hockey as the season winds down. The Panthers showed what they can potentially do by edging the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks 3-2 on Tuesday, but they ran into the same group of Senators on Thursday and came away with the same result, a 2-1 defeat. In this case it was Craig Anderson throttling the Florida attack and Erik Karlsson netting a pair of third-period goals. Clay Wilson scored with 4:13 left as the Panthers avoided getting shut out.

"(Tuesday) night it was just kind of get the puck to the net and tonight just skating to the net, nothing fancy," said Wilson, a defenseman who also scored against Chicago. "Just kind of got a couple of bounces going my way."

Who's hot: St. Louis (2-2-4) and Steven Stamkos (1-3-4) have three-game points streaks going for the Lightning. … The end results wouldn't indicate it, but Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun has been playing extremely well, posting a .931 save percentage over his past six appearances. 

Injury report:
Tampa Bay forward Steve Downie (knee/ankle) and defenseman Randy Jones (ankle) are out indefinitely, while forward Ryan Malone (abdomen) is on injured reserve. Defenseman Pavel Kubina is serving a three-game suspension. … Florida forward Scott Timmins (concussion) and defenseman Alexander Sulzer (oblique) are day-to-day. Forwards Rostislav Olesz (knee), Jack Skille (ankle), Ryan Carter (back), Evgeny Dadonov (hand) and Shawn Matthias (ankle) are on injured reserve.

Stat pack: Sean Bergenheim leads the Lightning in the season series with 2 goals, while David Booth has 3 goals and 1 assist for the Panthers. Vokoun is 2-0-1 with a 1.26 goals-against average and .954 save percentage in three starts.

Puck drop:
Florida coach Peter DeBoer weighed in on the subject of head shots in the aftermath of Timmins suffering what the team called a "mild" concussion following a check by Ottawa forward Francis Lessard in Thursday's game. Lessard received a five-minute charging major and game misconduct, but was not suspended and played against Tampa Bay on Friday.

"We're cracking down on head shots," DeBoer told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "We're stating to punish guys that intentionally aim for the head or make blows to the head. At the same time, they're not taking out the physical aspect of the game."

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