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Lightning go for two-game sweep of Panthers

by Frank Mentesana

PANTHERS (12-6-4) at LIGHTNING (10-9-2)

TV: FS-Florida (HD), SUN (HD)

Last 10: Florida 6-2-2; Tampa Bay 5-5-0

Season Series: This is already the fifth of six meetings this season between these Southeast Division rivals, who are facing each other for the second time in 24 hours. Tampa Bay aims to sweep this home-and-home series after a 2-1 overtime victory in Sunrise on Friday. Steven Stamkos' 12th goal of the season -- a power-play goal -- gave the Lightning their second win in Florida's barn and evened the season series. The Panthers won both ends of a home-and-home in mid-October, while the Bolts posted a 4-3 shootout victory at the BankAtlantic Center on Nov. 6. Panthers Kris Versteeg and Brian Campbell both have six points in the four matchups, as does Tampa Bay defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron.

Big Story: After their tremendous postseason run last spring, the Lightning were expected to be the team from the Sunshine State to be atop the Southeast the day after Thanksgiving. Instead, the Panthers are proving to be for real at the quarter mark of the season; after a nearly-perfect four-game homestand, they are three points ahead of Washington for the top spot in the division. The last time the Panthers were in first place this late in the season was through 68 games on March 10, 2000.

Team Scope:

Panthers: Florida's three-game winning streak came to a halt when Stamkos blasted a one-timer past Jose Theodore 2:29 into OT. Florida took a 1-0 edge midway through the second period when Tomas Fleischmann connected on a 2-on-1 for his 10th goal of the season. The Cats could not hold the lead though, surrendering a goal by Vincent Lecavalier 8:59 into the final period.

"I'm a little ticked off," said Versteeg, the fourth-leading scorer in the League with 26 points. "We're giving away too many points away this season already. We had a one-goal lead going into the third period. We have to learn how to win these games."

Coach Kevin Dineen has indicated that rookie Jacob Markstrom could get his fifth start of the season after Jose Theodore has started nine of the team's last 10 games. Markstrom is 2-2-1 with a 2.05 GAA and has never faced the Lightning.

Lightning: The Bolts put a dreadful 7-1 loss to the Maple Leafs on Tuesday behind them with the OT win at Florida. They had also dropped four of their previous five and are 11th in the Eastern Conference. The Lightning hope Friday's road victory can be a springboard as they play nine of their next 14 on the road, where they are just 4-6-2.

"We definitely wanted to bounce back after that Toronto game, since we weren’t pleased with that effort," said Stamkos, who now has three career overtime goals. "We never gave up all game and we wanted to get back on track here, so we did."

Mathieu Garon started in goal and made 23 saves for his first win since Oct. 25 as he and Dwayne Roloson continue to share the goaltending duties.

Who's Hot: Stamkos has six goals and 11 points in his last nine games, while Lecavalier has tallied a goal in three of his last four. Martin St. Louis assisted on both goals Friday, his first assists since Nov. 6. … Fleischmann extended his point-streak to four games, in which he has notched three goals and six points. Stephen Weiss has two goals and five assists over his last four games.

Injury Report: The Lightning are still without defenseman Mattias Ohlund after arthroscopic surgery on both knees last month. Steve Downie left Tuesday's loss to Toronto with an upper-body injury and is day-to-day. ... Florida forwards Mikael Samuelsson (groin), Scottie Upshall (hip) and Matt Bradley (upper body) are all on IR. Marcel Goc (head) has missed the past five games and goalie Scott Clemmensen (lower body) remains sidelined.

Stat Pack: Florida's top line of Fleischmann-Weiss-Versteeg has scored 30 of its 62 goals this season. … Stamkos' game-winner ended a streak of 21 penalties successfully killed by the Panthers over the last eight games.

Puck Drop: Seven of the last nine games between these clubs have been decided either in overtime or the shootout, including three of the four this season. The Panthers' two losses have come after regulation.

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