TAMPA - The Panthers prepared for their first road game in nearly three weeks Tuesday morning by skating here at St. Pete Times Forum.
The Panthers, 8-0-1 in their last nine games, are hoping to continue their playoff push tonight against the Lightning.
After beating the Lightning and goalie Mike Smith 4-2 Saturday at BankAtlantic Center, the Panthers will face goalie Karri Ramo. Smith was injured in practice Monday and will not dress. Ramo, who the Panthers beat Feb. 2 here 3-2, will play for the first time since allowing six, third-period goals in the Lightning’s 7-4 loss March 19 to Buffalo.
The Panthers, who begin the night three points out of the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, will be one of several key games tonight that could determine who makes the playoffs. Every team seeking their eighth spot will be in action this evening.
The Bruins, three points ahead of the Panthers and Sabres in the eighth spot and two ahead of Washington, play at Toronto. Washington visits Carolina and Buffalo plays host to Ottawa.
The Flyers, in the seventh spot (five points ahead of Florida), play at Madison Square Garden.
GM and coach Jacques Martin has been pleased with the fact the Panthers have held each of their opponents to no more than two goals in regulation during their current streak.
“When you look at the reason for our success in March, I think it’s fairly simple,” said Martin after Tuesday morning’s skate. “It’s the number of goals we’ve allowed. That’s what has allowed us to get the number of points we have.”
Another factor over the past three games has been the team’s penalty killing units, which have shut down their opponent’s 11 power play opportunities.
The key tonight, as it was Saturday, according to Martin, is shutting down the Lightning’s top line of Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Jussi Jokinen.
“That’s a big part of it,” Martin said. “I thought we did a good job (Saturday) night. I thought most of their chances came on the power play for that line, that unit.
“I thought we had a good start Saturday night. We controlled the first period. We were not very good in the second. Penalties got us in trouble. We have to be better tonight as far as staying out of the box, getting some pucks behind their defense, and trying to create some turnovers.”
Magnus Johansson, who has an injured left hand but did practice Tuesday morning, will be a game time decision, according to Martin. If he doesn’t play, Martin will go with either Branislav Mezei or Noah Welch.
Tomas Vokoun, who made 323 saves Saturday evening, including seven on Lecavalier, will be in the net for the Panthers.