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Lightning-Panthers Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Tampa Bay Lightning (36-28-4) at Florida Panthers (28-30-9).

TIME: Monday, 7 p.m. EST.

The Florida Panthers will try to continue a playoff push at the expense of their cross-state rival.

Florida looks for its third straight win over the Tampa Bay Lightning when the Southeast Division rivals meet at BankAtlantic Center.

The Panthers, who have won five of their last six overall, start play with 65 points and are tied with the Bruins for 12th place in the East. Both Florida and Boston are six points behind Montreal for the eighth and final playoff spot, but the Panthers have played one fewer game.

With this contest, the Panthers close the season with nine of their final 15 games on home ice.

"Right now, we're in the thick of the schedule," Florida coach Jacques Martin said. "We have three home games this week, and they're huge for us. It's up to us to make the most of it."

Florida also recorded its most lopsided win of the season with an 8-2 rout of the Lightning on Feb. 28 behind two goals each from Chris Gratton - a former Tampa Bay player - Olli Jokinen and Joe Nieuwendyk.

Nieuwendyk scored the lone shootout goal in Florida's last game, a 4-3 win Saturday over Washington.

"We can't control how the other teams play," said Jokinen, the Panthers' leading scorer. "But it was a big two points."

Jokinen has six goals and five assists in a six-game points streak against Tampa Bay.

Rostislav Olesz and Jay Bouwmeester scored 15 seconds apart in the second period against the Caps to erase a one-goal deficit. Bouwmeester, the third overall pick in the 2002 entry draft, has scored in consecutive outings for the first time in his 210-game NHL career.

Goaltender Roberto Luongo finished with 37 saves against the Capitals, and been in net for all four games against the Lightning this season, posting a 1.50 goals-against average and one shutout.

Tampa Bay is tied with New Jersey for sixth in the East with 76 points each. The Lightning defeated the New York Islanders 5-2 on Sunday for just its third win in nine games.

After Vincent Lecavalier tied the score at 2 with a goal in the final minute of the second period, Ruslan Fedotenko, Martin St. Louis and Fredrik Modin scored in an 8:16 span of the third to break open the game.

"We were having problems generating chances, having problems with their speed," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "Obviously the second goal at the end of the period was key.

"That's what I like about what happened, we ended up finding a way."

Lecavalier also had an assist, giving him six goals and four assists in a seven-game points streak.

Vaclav Prospal added two assists to extend his points streak to six games. He has two goals and eight assists during the run.

STANDINGS: Lightning - 76 points, 2nd place, 20 PB, Southeast Division. Panthers - 65 points, 4th place, 31 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Lightning - Lecavalier, 32 goals; Brad Richards, 51 assists; Prospal and Richards, 71 points; Pavel Kubina, 86 PIM. Panthers - Jokinen, 32 goals, 40 assists and 72 points; Gratton, 92 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Lightning - Power play: 15.7 percent (64 for 407), 24th in NHL. Penalty killing: 82.2 percent (272 for 331), 17th. Panthers - Power play: 14.4 percent (49 for 340), 27th. Penalty killing: 83.2 percent (347 for 417), 13th.

GOALTENDERS: Lightning - John Grahame (25-18-1, 5 SO, 2.94 GAA); Gerald Coleman (0-0-0, 0, 3.00). Panthers - Luongo (27-26-9, 4, 2.96); Jamie McLennan (1-4-0, 0, 2.95).

SEASON SERIES: Panthers, 3-1.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 28; Panthers 8-2. At Tampa, Fla., Jokinen, Nieuwendyk and Gratton each had two goals, while Luongo made 32 saves. Kubina assisted on both Lightning goals.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Lightning - 18-16-2 on the road; Panthers - 19-9-4 at home.

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