LIGHTNING (28-15-5) at PANTHERS (21-20-4)
TV: SUN (HD), FS-F (HD)
Last 10: Tampa Bay 6-4-0; Florida 5-3-2
Season series: Third of six meetings between these Southeast Division rivals. The Panthers are off to a fast start, having won 6-0 in Florida on Oct. 16 behind two goals from David Booth and 29 saves by Tomas Vokoun, and 4-3 in Tampa Bay on Nov. 27 on a shootout tally by Stephen Weiss.
Big story: In spite of the Panthers' head-to-head success against the Lightning so far this season, they still find themselves looking up at their Floridian neighbors in the division standings, with a gap that has reached double digits. While the Lightning vie for the third Southeast crown in their franchise history, the Panthers need to get it in gear quickly to avoid missing the playoffs for an NHL-record 10th consecutive season.
Lightning: Thanks to the goal scoring of Steven Stamkos and the shootout prowess of Dominic Moore, a one-point lead in the Southeast still belongs to Tampa Bay, which edged Atlanta 3-2 on Thursday. Stamkos wiped out a pair of leads by the Thrashers with his League-leading 36th and 37th goals of the season, then Moore scored in the fourth round of the penalty-shot tiebreaker to give the Lightning the win, important since the Capitals also won Thursday.
"He's a big guy," Moore said of Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec, whom he faked out to score the goal. "I just tried to get him moving laterally by coming in from an angle."
Panthers: This is the finale of a six-game homestand that has seen Florida treat its fans to plenty of bonus hockey -- four of the first five have gone to overtime, and one wasn't decided until the shootout. While the Panthers started their run at the BankAtlantic Center by winning three in a row, including OT triumphs over the Capitals and Devils, they're coming off consecutive losses to the Thrashers and Blue Jackets in which they let leads slip away late in regulation. Antoine Vermette scored the tying goal Wednesday with 53 seconds left and RJ Umberger connected on a power play 4:06 into the extra period as Columbus handed Florida a 3-2 defeat.
"It wasn't about giving up a goal in the last minute, it's the whole game and how we play," Vokoun said. "We were asking for it the whole third period. We had chances but we didn't score. We just do it to ourselves."
Who's hot: Stamkos has 6 goals during a four-game streak of lighting the lamp. Pavel Kubina has an assist in three straight games for the Lightning. … Cory Stillman has 1 goal and 5 assists during a five-game points streak for the Panthers. Dmitry Kulikov has 2 goals and 3 assists during a three-game points streak. Dennis Wideman has 3 goals in his last five games.
Injury report: Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith (knee) is on injured reserve. … Florida defenseman Bryan McCabe is out 4-6 weeks after fracturing his jaw, while forward Chris Higgins is out indefinitely with a strained hamstring.
Stat pack: Stamkos has nearly double the amount of goals as the second-leading scorer on the Lightning, as Martin St. Louis has 19 on the season. … Booth is averaging a career-high 3.64 shots per game this season and scored his team-leading 14th goal for the Panthers on Wednesday.
Puck drop: Kulikov got to personally experience the thrill of victory and agony of defeat in a span of five days, as the 20-year-old defenseman scored the overtime winner against New Jersey last Saturday and took the holding penalty that led to Umberger's OT goal.