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Lightning-Panthers Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Tampa Bay Lightning (39-29-5) at Florida Panthers (33-31-9).

TIME: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST.

The Florida Panthers will try to keep their faint playoff hopes alive when they meet the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the start of a home-and-home series.

Florida, which has not been to the playoffs since losing in conference quarterfinal in 2000, starts play with 75 points - good for 10th place in the East, eight points behind Tampa Bay, Montreal and New Jersey all tied for sixth.

Including this contest, the Panthers will meet the Lightning three more times. They will not face the Canadiens or Devils anymore during the regular season.

Florida's season-high seven-game winning streak came to an end with a 3-2 loss Friday to Carolina that gave the Hurricanes the Southeast Division title.

Early in the third period and with Chad Larose off for hooking, Florida goaltender Roberto Luongo fanned on a clearing attempt, allowing Carolina's Craig Adams to score the go-ahead short-handed goal.

"There's no time to think about this game," Panthers coach Jacques Martin said. "We've got to bounce back."

For the Panthers to get into the playoffs, they will need Luongo to continue his solid play.

The netminder has posted a 9-2-0 record with a 2.90 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in his last 11 starts. His 32 wins this season is a career-best.

He also has won his last three starts against the Lightning.

The Panthers are looking to win four in a row against their in-state rival for the first time, since winning nine consecutive games from October 1998-March 2000.

The Lightning made a big playoff push at the expense of another division rival. Dmitry Afanasenkov scored twice for his second multigoal game of his career in Tampa Bay's 4-3 win Thursday over Atlanta.

The Lightning have won three of the last four games, despite dealing with injuries.

"We're going through a tough time here with injuries," Lightning coach John Tortorella said of the injured Dan Boyle (ankle), Pavel Kubina (lower body) and Fredrik Modin (groin). "This situation, things piled up. Three main guys on our team all together. I really respect how our team stayed together and played a game as a team."

Brad Richards is riding a seven-game point-scoring streak, which has seen him total 12 assists and 14 points.

He leads the Lightning in scoring this season with career-highs in assists and points. He is five goals shy of his career best (26) set in 2003-04.

STANDINGS: Lightning - 83 points, 2nd place, 19 PB, Southeast Division. Panthers - 75 points, 4th place, 27 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Lightning - Vincent Lecavalier, 32 goals; Richards, 60 assists and 81 points; Lecavalier and Kubina, 88 PIM. Panthers - Olli Jokinen, 33 goals, 45 assists and 78 points; Chris Gratton, 94 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Lightning - Power play: 16.2 percent (70 for 433), 23rd in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.7 percent (286 for 350), 19th. Panthers - Power play: 15.1 percent (56 for 370), 25th. Penalty killing: 83.3 percent (379 for 455), 14th.

GOALTENDERS: Lightning - John Grahame (28-19-1, 5 SO, 2.98 GAA); Sean Burke (11-9-3, 1, 2.92). Panthers - Luongo (32-26-9, 4, 2.95); Jamie McLennan (1-4-0, 0, 2.95).

SEASON SERIES: Panthers, 4-1.

LAST MEETING: March 20; Panthers, 6-5 (OT). At Sunrise, Fla., after the Lightning scored four times in the third period, Jokinen netted the game-winner for the Panthers 3:16 into overtime.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Lightning - 18-17-3 on the road; Panthers - 22-9-4 at home.

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