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Panthers, Lightning face off for top spot in Atlantic

Lightning will seek fourth straight win, but without injured Stralman

by Corey Long / Correspondent

PANTHERS (41-24-9) at LIGHTNING (43-26-5)

TV: 7 p.m. ET; FS-F, SUN, NHL.TV

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers will play for first place in the Atlantic Division on Saturday at Amalie Arena.

The two teams are tied with 91 points with eight games remaining but the Lightning own the tiebreaker with 40 wins in regulation or overtime to 34 for the Panthers.

Each team has a player considered questionable: Forward Reilly Smith didn't participate in the Panthers optional skate, and forward Nikita Kucherov took a shot on his shin in the third period of a 7-4 win against the New York Islanders on Friday. Kucherov left the game temporarily but returned after missing a couple of shifts.

Tampa Bay will be without defenseman Anton Stralman, who sustained a non-displaced fracture of his left fibula Friday while battling in front of the net with Islanders forward Anders Lee. Defenseman Victor Hedman said Stralman is in good spirits.

"He's very positive, so I think that will help him with his recovery," Hedman said. "He's a calm Swedish guy."

Hedman, who already leads the Lightning in ice time, said he expects to take on more minutes and responsibility with Stralman out of the lineup.

"It's going to be a group effort," Hedman said. "We all have to do more and we understand that because he did a lot of things for this team."

Florida put together a strong effort Thursday in a 4-1 road win against the Boston Bruins after losing consecutive games to the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers.

Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said it's important to focus but remain loose as the push for the Stanley Cup Playoffs intensifies.

"We're battling right now for the division lead and it's a lot of fun," Gallant said. "We're playing a big game late in the season and that's where you want to be right now."

Forward Jaromir Jagr said this game is going to be one of the toughest tests for the younger players on the Panthers and another chance to experience a playoff-like atmosphere.

"You have to raise your game as you get closer to the playoffs," Jagr said. "As these guys get older they will understand that more, so this is going to be a good for them to see how they handle the situation."

Tampa Bay will go with Andrei Vasilevskiy in net and Florida will counter with Roberto Luongo.

Here are the projected line combinations:

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr
Jussi Jokinen - Vincent Trocheck - Reilly Smith
Teddy Purcell - Nick Bjugstad - Jiri Hudler
Garrett Wilson - Greg McKegg - Logan Shaw

Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad
Dmitry Kulikov - Steve Kampfer
Jakub Kindl - Alex Petrovic

Roberto Luongo
Al Montoya

Injured: Dave Bolland (lower body), Derek MacKenzie (foot), Erik Gudbranson (foot), Willie Mitchell (concussion)
Scratched: Quinton Howden, Shawn Thornton

Alex Killorn - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Jonathan Marchessault
Cedric Paquette - Vladislav Namestnikov - J.T. Brown
Mike Blunden - Brian Boyle - Erik Condra

Victor Hedman - Nikita Nesterov
Jason Garrison - Andrej Sustr
Matthew Carle - Braydon Coburn

Andrei Vasilevskiy
Ben Bishop

Injured: Anton Stralman (fractured leg), Valtteri Filppula (upper body), Ryan Callahan (lower body)
Scratched: Slater Koekkoek, Joel Vermin

Status report: Callahan and Filppula participated in the optional skate but are not expected to be in the lineup. Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he's hopeful they will return Monday. … Koekkoek, a defenseman, and Vermin, a forward were recalled from Syracuse of the American Hockey League.

Who's hot: Stamkos has scored six goals in the past six games. … Jokinen has six points (three goals, three assists) in the past four games.

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