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Panthers-Lightning Preview @NHL

The last time the Tampa Bay Lightning opened a season with three straight victories, they won the Stanley Cup for the only time in franchise history.

The Lightning look to get off their best start since the beginning of the 2003-04 season when they play host to the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night in a matchup of Southeast Division rivals.

Tampa Bay (2-0-0) has averaged 4.0 goals per game, second-most in the NHL behind Nashville this season. Forwards Vinny Prospal and Brad Richards each scored twice in the Lightning's 5-2 victory over Atlanta on Saturday.

"I know it's early in the season, but I really liked how all four lines are really playing with a lot of tempo," said Richards, playing his seventh year with Tampa Bay. "I haven't seen that in a while here."

Prospal didn't have a single multigoal game during his disappointing 2006-07 campaign, finishing with just 14 goals in 82 contests. He had only three goals through the first 38 games, but has already reached that mark this season.

"I just didn't want to go through what I went through last year," said Prospal, who had a career-high 25 goals with Tampa Bay in 2005-06. "Everybody struggles, but it's always easier when you get to the point in the season when you have something to look back to.

"Last year, from the beginning, I didn't really have anything to look back to. For the team, for me personally, it's always great when we get off to a good start like this."

Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella expects Prospal's hot start to continue.

"I expect a huge year out of Vinny Prospal," he said. "You can just sense it."

The Panthers (0-2-0), meanwhile, are hoping to avoid their third loss in a row. They haven't been held without a point in their first three games of a season since the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season.

The Panthers' early struggles have been partly due to the poor play of new goalie Tomas Vokoun, whom Florida acquired from Nashville in the offseason. Vokoun has already given up nine goals, including four in a 4-1 defeat against New Jersey on Saturday.

"I played a long time and these things happen," Vokoun said. "Sometimes things aren't going to go your way. That's what you're judged on. Everything's not going to be a smooth ride, or going to be easy."

The Panthers expect Vokoun to rebound. He ranked 11th in the league with a 2.40 goals against average last year

"He hasn't done the job, that's the bottom line," Panthers coach Jacques Martin said. "But it's a long season and I think he's going to have a lot of games."

The Panthers haven't been to the postseason since 1999-2000, while the Lightning are coming off their fourth straight playoff berth. Florida, though, might have a good chance to get its first victory of the year as the Panthers went 5-2-1 in last season's series.

They outscored Tampa Bay 33-24 in those games, including 18-6 in the teams' final three meetings of the year - all Florida victories.

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