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Surging Panthers return home to face Lightning

by Eric Goodman

LIGHTNING (22-11-3) at PANTHERS (14-18-5)


Last 10: Tampa Bay 6-2-2; Florida 7-3-0

Season series: The Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers play the third of four games. The Lightning won the first two games in October.

Big story: Tampa Bay and Florida are among the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference, with the Lightning winning four straight and the Panthers coming off a loss that ended a five-game winning streak. The Lightning are 5-0-1 in their past six games at BB&T Center (formerly known as BankAtlantic Center), including a current five-game winning streak.

Team Scope:

Panthers: A 3-1-0 record on its trip through parts of Canada last week has Florida in the midst of the playoff hunt, but it must keep up the pace Monday when it begins a five-game homestand. The Panthers are 7-7-3 at home and will look to extend their home winning streak to four when they start a stretch of seven of the next eight games against Eastern Conference opponents.

"Getting a good road trip means nothing if you don't have a good homestand," forward Shawn Matthias told the Florida Sun-Sentinel following practice Sunday. "It makes or breaks your season. We've had a few good weeks; now we got to take advantage of it."

Lightning: In the absence of forward Steven Stamkos (right tibia surgery), a diverse offense led by veterans Martin St. Louis (34 points) and Valtteri Filppula (26 points), along with solid goaltending from Ben Bishop (19-5-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average) has kept the Lightning within striking distance of the Boston Bruins for the top spot in the East.

Tampa Bay is 10-6-3 since Stamkos was injured and has received goals from some unlikely sources, including 11 from its defensemen. The defense led the Lightning to a 3-2 overtime victory against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday. Victor Hedman had a goal and an assist, and Radko Gudas scored the deciding goal in the extra period.

"From training camp it's been about five guys on defense, five guys on offense. The defense got two goals tonight and we need to keep that going," Hedman said following the win.

Who's hot: For the Lightning, Filppula is in the midst of a four-game point streak with two goals and four assists. ... Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen has won four straight starts and owns a 1.50 GAA in that span.

Injury report: Defenseman Eric Brewer (upper body) will miss the game Monday. In addition to Stamkos, defensemen Brian Lee (knee surgery) and Keith Aulie (hand surgery), along with forward Ryan Malone (broken ankle) are on injured reserve. ... Panthers goalie Tim Thomas (groin) practiced without pain Sunday. The veteran missed the past five games and will not get the start Monday, according to reports. Defenseman Ed Jovanovski (hip surgery) and forward Jesse Winchester (bruised hand) are on injured reserve.

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