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Panthers, Lightning set for showdown in Tampa Bay

by Brian Compton
PANTHERS (18-20-8) at LIGHTNING (18-17-10)

Last 10: Florida 3-6-1; Tampa Bay 6-3-1.

Season Series: This is just the second of six meetings between the Southeast Division rivals. Tampa Bay earned a 3-2 victory against Florida at the St. Pete Times Forum on Oct. 12. Ryan Malone scored the game-winning goal.

Big Story: The interstate rivals seem to be headed in opposite directions. While Florida managed to pick up a point on Wednesday night, it has just three wins in its last 10 games. Meanwhile, the Lightning have tallied points seven times in that same span.

Team Scope:

Panthers: A three-goal lead wasn't enough for Florida on Wednesday, as the Washington Capitals rallied for a 5-4 shootout victory at the BankAtlantic Center. Florida chased goalie Michal Neuvirth and held a 4-1 edge midway through the second, but it was enough to prevent Florida from losing to the Caps for a third straight time.

''We have to learn how to win games,'' Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. ''We do a lot of things right on a lot of nights, but this is a game that is about wins and losses and we aren't good at closing teams out or doing what it takes to finish teams off.''

Lightning: Tampa Bay didn't have much of a problem against Washington on Tuesday night, as Steven Stamkos had two goals and an assist and Martin St. Louis had a goal and two assists in a 7-4 win at the St. Pete Times Forum. Just like the Panthers, the Lightning chased Neuvirth, scoring four times on 15 shots.

"It was definitely exciting for everyone who got a chance to see that. Lots of goals, lots of feistiness, lots of hits and fights … it was a good effort for us tonight," Stamkos said. "We'll take the win, especially against those guys."

Who's Hot: Stephen Weiss had a goal and an assist on Wednesday. He now has 19 tallies and 22 assists this season. … St. Louis has notched at least a point in 11 consecutive games for the Lightning.

Injury Report: Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (knee) and forward David Booth (concussion) are expected to return later this month, while Kenndal McArdle (shoulder) is likely to miss another 2-3 weeks. … Lightning forward Todd Fedoruk (lower body) is expected to miss two weeks, while Matt Smaby (upper body) is out indefinitely.

Stat Pack: Stamkos, a second-year pro, has already passed his season output from last season with 25 goals to lead the team. He had 23 as a rookie in 2008-09. The No. 1 pick from the 2008 NHL Entry Draft also has 22 assists through 45 games.

Puck Drop: "Every game is important for us now. The Eastern Conference is so tight that we can't afford to lose lots of games, and especially against this team, it's a big confidence booster." -- Steven Stamkos after Tuesday's 7-4 win against Washington

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