Oct 27, 2013; Sunrise, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Pierre-Cedric Labrie (76) up ends Florida Panthers center Tomas Kopecky (82) in the first period at BB&T Center. Robert Mayer USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Florida Panthers Vs Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning: 22-11-3, 47 pts (t-2nd in Atlantic) at Florida Panthers: 14-18-5, 33 pts (7th in Atlantic)

The Florida Panthers look to continue their hot December when they take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET at BB&T Center. The Panthers are 7-3-0 in their 10 December games and they are coming off a road trip through Canada in which they went 3-1-0. Their last game, a 5-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, snapped a five game winning streak.

The Panthers will be taking on an equally temperate opponent tonight in the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that is currently in the midst of a four game winning streak. Tampa has not missed a beat since losing their superstar Steven Stamkos to a right tibia injury. Since Stamkos went down in early November, the Lightning have compiled a 10-6-3 record staying within striking distance of the Boston Bruins for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

In Stamkos’ absence, Tampa has been led by Martin St. Louis (15-19-34) and Valtteri Filppula (12-14-26) as well as 23-year-old Tyler Johnson (8-10-18). The biggest factor in Tampa’s sustained success has been the excellent play of goaltender Ben Bishop. Bishop has brought some stability to a position that has plagued the Lightning over the past couple years. In 27 games, he has a 19-5-2 record, a .934 Sv% and a 1.96 GAA.

With their recently ended five-game win streak, the Panthers have played themselves back into the playoff picture. The Panthers currently sit seven points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the last wild card spot in the East. A huge improvement from just a couple weeks ago on December 4th when they sat 12 points out.

The Panthers have been winning with a balanced offensive attack as nine players have at least 10 points but nobody has reached double-digit goals. Goaltending has also played a role in Florida’s recent success which is somewhat surprising considering the team has been without starter Tim Thomas for the past five games. Scott Clemmensen, who should get the start tonight, has been excellent filling in for Thomas putting up a 1.50 GAA while winning his last four starts.

Tonight will be the third of four match-ups between these Atlantic Division rivals. Tampa took the first two games of the season series winning 7-2 on October 10th and again 4-3 (SO) on October 27th.

Following tonight’s game, the Panthers will have four days off for Christmas before facing off against the Detroit Red Wings on December 28th. Here is the lineup I think the Panthers will go with tonight against Tampa:

Huberdeau-Bjugstad-Upshall

Fleischmann-Barkov-Bergenheim

Boyes-Goc-Kopecky

Barch-Matthias-Hayes

Campbell-Gilbert

Kulikov-Weaver

Olsen-Gudbranson

Scott Clemmensen

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