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Panthers seek home-and-home sweep of Lightning

by Brian Hunter
LIGHTNING (18-18-10) at PANTHERS (19-20-8)

Last 10:
Tampa Bay 5-4-1; Florida 4-5-1

Season Series:
Third of six meetings this season between the NHL's two Florida teams, and the second in three nights. The Panthers began the home-and-home by rallying for a 3-2 road win Thursday on third-period goals by Cory Stillman and Rostislav Olesz. The teams also met in Tampa back on Oct. 12, and on that occasion it was the Lightning with a third-period comeback for a 3-2 victory, getting goals by Martin St. Louis and Ryan Malone.

Big Story: This is another crucial game between Southeast Division rivals on the fringe of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Each begins play Saturday with 46 points, four behind Ottawa and Montreal for the seventh and eighth spots, respectively. Florida seemingly has momentum after stealing two points in Tampa, but the Panthers have the fewest home wins in the League, with a 7-8-6 mark at the BankAtlantic Center.

Team Scope:

Lightning: Jeff Halpern and Steve Downie scored goals three minutes apart in the first period Thursday as Tampa Bay took a 2-1 edge and carried it into the third period. Less than 12 minutes away from the victory, they allowed the lead to slip away and St. Louis was denied on a penalty shot with 4:55 remaining after being pulled down on a shorthanded breakaway.

"I'm disappointed with our thought process," St. Louis said. "Everybody is working hard. You've got to work smart, especially in a 2-1 game."

Coming off a 5-4 shootout loss to Washington, a game in which Florida blew a 4-1 lead on home ice, the Panthers were more than pleased to turn the tables and come back to beat the Lightning. In addition to the goals by Stillman and Olesz, Nathan Horton opened the scoring in the first period and Tomas Vokoun finished with 28 saves, including the penalty shot denial on St. Louis.

"We showed a lot of character and we battled hard," Vokoun said. "We had good fortune, but sometimes that's what you need."

Who's Hot:
Downie has three goals and three assists in his last six games and is tied for third on the Lightning with five power-play tallies. St. Louis had six goals and 11 assists in an 11-game points streak that was snapped Thursday. Steven Stamkos was also kept off the scoresheet, but had eight goals and 17 points in his previous 13 games. Captain Vincent Lecavalier has five goals and 17 points in his last 14 games.

Horton has three goals and eight points in his last seven games. He leads the Panthers in assists (29) and points (45). Olesz has three goals in as many games. Stephen Weiss has a goal and three assists during a three-game points streak. Michael Frolik has a goal and two assists in the last two games.

Injury Report:
A strained neck kept Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith from dressing Thursday, as Dustin Tokarski backed up Antero Niittymaki. Defenseman Matt Smaby is day-to-day with a concussion. Forward Todd Fedoruk is on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Florida defenseman Bryan Allen missed the first game of the home-and-home with a knee injury but could return Saturday. Fellow blueliner Nick Tarnasky is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (knee) and forwards Kenndal McArdle (shoulder/arm) and David Booth (concussion) are on injured reserve.

Stat Pack:
The Lightning lost for the third time in 16 games (13-2-1) when leading after two periods. … The Panthers have dropped their last two home games in this series via the shootout.

Puck Drop: "We just have to realize how we want to play and what kind of a team we want to be," defenseman Andrej Meszaros told the Tampa Tribune after Thursday's defeat. "Those two points were huge for us and we didn't win it. These games at home at this point in the season, we have to win, there is no question about that."

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