Tampa Bay Lightning: 10-14-1 (21 pts) at Florida Panthers 7-13-6 (20 pts)
At the start of the season the Tampa Bay Lightning looked like they were going to run away with the Southeast Division title. Things have not gone as planned. After a hot 6-1-0 start, Tampa has struggled going 4-13-1 and falling all the way to the 13th spot in the Eastern Conference. That fall could continue tonight as they travel to South Florida to player their interstate rivals the Florida Panthers. Florida currently occupies the Eastern Conference basement with 20 points but a win tonight and the Panthers could leapfrog Tampa.
As you would expect from two of the NHL’s worst teams, their records over the last 10 games have been less than sterling. Tampa has gone 2-8-0 while Florida has gone 2-6-2. The Panthers are closing out a three game home stand tonight against Tampa. On Friday the Panthers lost 3-2 in overtime to the Winnipeg Jets and on Sunday they fell to the Eastern Conference Canadiens 5-2. Florida has five of its seven wins this season at home but have also lost four overtime games and one shootout in their own building.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have dominated the Panthers recently going 6-0-0 in the last six games of the series. While Florida has managed to get a point in three of those games, they haven’t been able to break through for a win.
The Lightning have won both games this season between the two teams. In the first meeting in late January, the Lightning won in Tampa 5-2. The Lightning then came to South Florida and won a thrilling overtime game 6-5. The Panthers blew a two goal third period lead giving up the tying goal in excruciating fashion with only 11 seconds left in the game.
Tonight will be Florida’s last home game against the Lightning. The two teams play twice in Tampa during the month of April.
Players to Watch:
Jakob Markstrom has started four straight games since being called up to fill in for the injured Jose Theodore. During that span he is 1-2-1 with a SV% of .888. Markstrom is going to be the guy for the Panthers the remainder of the season and the team is fine with suffering through any growing pains Markstrom may have. It has been mostly a lost season for Florida but the team is dead set on finding out what they have with Markstrom and the best way to do that is to get him in NHL games.
The Lightning’s goaltending situation has been in a state of flux as well. Anders Lindback started the season as the number one goalie but lost that role to Mathieu Garon. Garon picked up a lower body injury on March 4th and has yet to return. The injury forced Lindback back into the starting role and Tampa called up Cedrick Desjardinsto fill the backup role. Desjardins started Saturday against the Canadiens and stopped 25 of 29 shots on the way to picking up the loss.
On the offensive side of things, Shawn Matthias has been playing excellent of late coming into the game on a four game point streak including goals in each of his last two games. The uptick in Matthias’ play has come with his return to his natural center position replacing the injured Stephen Weiss. His line mate Jack Skille has also been playing well and he brings a three game point streak with him into tonight’s game.
For Tampa, the usual suspects remain dangerous. Steven Stamkos leads the league with 19 goals and is second in points with 37. Martin St. Louis has seven assists in his last five games and is second in the NHL with 27 total. Both players trail Sidney Crosby in their respective categories. Crosby has 45 points (12 goals, 33 assists) on the year.
UPDATE: Here are the lineups according to NHL.com
Pre Game Points:
- The Panthers have an NHL worst -34 goal differential. It is interesting to note that Florida is getting outscored 69 goals to 42 in the first and second periods combined, a goal differential of -27. In the third period, Florida is only getting outscored 23-21 for a goal differential of -2. That would seem to indicate that Florida is playing much better in the third period and have been hurt by dreadfully slow starts. It could also mean that on many nights the opposition already has such a large lead that they can turn down the intensity a bit. For example in Florida’s 7-1 and 5-2 losses to the Caps and Canadiens respectively, the Panthers were outscored 9-0 in the first two frames but held even in the third period 3-3.
- Jonathan Rheault has been sent back to San Antonio after three games with the Panthers. Rheault did not log a point in his time with Florida but was +2 in his three games.
- Tonight features the two top contestants for the Calder Memorial Trophy given to the Rookie of the Year. Cory Conacher of Tampa leads all rookies in points with 20 off 7 goals and 13 assists. Jonathan Huberdeau of the Panthers leads all rookies in goals with 12 and is second to Conacher in points with 17.
- Not really any changes to the Panthers lineup, the Kopecky-Matthias-Skille line has been doing the most damage recently while the “kid-line” has been quiet of late.
- It looks like Markstrom will be in the net again and the Panthers would love for hiim to cut back on his early blunders. Markstrom has allowed a goal in the opening three minutes of the Panthers last three games, all loses.