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Panthers visit Tampa Bay in Sunshine State battle

by John Kreiser /
PANTHERS (24-26-7) at LIGHTNING (34-18-6)

TV -- FS-Florida (HD), SUN (HD)

Last 10 -- Florida 3-5-2; Tampa Bay 6-3-1

Season series -- The in-state rivals are meeting for fourth of six times this season. Florida won the first two before the Lightning beat them 2-1 in Sunrise, Fla., on Jan. 21.

Big story -- While the Panthers begin to fade in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Lightning have decided to go for it. Thursday's 6-2 loss to Detroit convinced GM Steve Yzerman that he needed help on the blue line, so the Bolts brought in veteran Eric Brewer from St. Louis for a pick and a prospect.

Team Scope:

Panthers -- Florida has to hope that the road will be kinder than their just-concluded five-game homestand, which ended with a 4-3 loss to the Wings on Friday. Florida lost four of the five games and is now nine points out of a playoff spot in the East.

The game against Detroit was the season in a nutshell -- bad start (down 2-0 and 3-1), rally (getting even at 3-3 in the third period) and, in the end, a one-goal loss.

"You've got to give guys credit for coming back and giving a good effort, but at the same time it's frustrating that we're not getting the results and the wins and more points. Tough one," defenseman Bryan Allen said.

Lightning -- The Bolts got a wakeup call this week when they lost to Philadelphia in a shootout before being whipped by the Wings, dropping them to 5-3-1 on their 12-game homestand.

"We've got to learn from this," center Vincent Lecavalier said after the loss to Detroit. "Our standards have to be even higher."

Who's hot -- Florida defenseman Dennis Wideman scored Friday and has 3 goals and 6 points in the Panthers' last three games. … Lecavalier has 5 goals and an assist in the Lightning's last five games.

Injury report -- Florida got captain Bryan McCabe (facial fractures) back on Friday but is still without defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (ankle) and forward Evgeny Dadonov (finger). … Tampa Bay is missing defenseman Mike Lundin and forward Ryan Malone with abdominal injuries.

Stat pack -- Brewer could give a boost to a defense that's 25th in the NHL with 182 goals allowed. … The Lightning have done a good job shutting down goal-scoring leader Steven Stamkos; they've limited him to just 2 assists in the first three meetings this season.

Puck drop -- It will be interesting to see the reaction of the Lightning and their fans to the Brewer deal. Tampa Bay is unexpectedly on top of the Southeast Division, and both the players and the fans should get a shot of energy from the fact that management has decided to devote additional resources on a team that's coming off three straight non-playoff seasons.

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