Game Day Preview: Lightning vs. Panthers


TAMPA BAY LIGHTING: 9-9-2 (20 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 12-6-3 (27 PTS.)

GAME TIME: 7:30 P.M. Eastern



For the first time on over three seasons the Florida Panthers hope to win their fourth consecutive game as they take on cross state rival the Tampa Bay Lightning.  As one of the league’s biggest surprises, the Panthers are tearing things up winning six of their last eight games, and have won their last three all by one goal.  A complete reversal of fortune from last season, and years past.  The last time they won four straight goes all the way back to March 2008, when the had a seven game run between March 2nd and March 16th.

The success of this version is centered around the top line of Stephen Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg.  They have combined for 17 points among them during this recent three game winning streak, and appear to be on fire most nights.  Versteeg along with Jason (boom boom) Garrison supplied the scoring Wednesday night as the Panthers beat the New York Rangers 2-1 in a well played battle for 60 minutes.  One thing that is remarkable about this Panthers’ club is how they seemingly hold leads, especially late in the game, as well as force the play even with those leads.  In seasons past the “prevent” defence was installed, as Florida sat back and watched too many games slip through their hands.  The mixture of both Kevin Dineen’s coaching style and the players that make up this club has reversed the fortune as well as the end result on many a night.  Gone are those moments of watching the game end with one eye closed for fear of the outcome.  This team has not only surprised, but thrilled it’s followers.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the play of Jose Theodore during this recent win streak they Panthers are on.  The composure and fight that he has shown, especially late in the games, has kept Florida on the right side of the win column.  What Jose makes up for in size, he gives with his heart and determination.  A solid performance this season, as he continues to provide excellent goaltending.  he’s 5-2-0 in his last seven starts with a 2.15 GAA.  With this home and home matchup it appears that Theo gets the start again tonight and that Jacob Markstrom gets the call on Saturday when these two teams meet in Tampa.

We are hoping that Tomas Fleischmann has no lingering affects from the reckless hit he received by Ranger tough guy Andre Deveaux, whose elbow struck Flash in Wednesday’s game.  Flash who went down quickly after the hit, went off the ice and into the dressing room, but did return and finished the game.  Deveaux was given a five minute penalty and a match penalty, and is now awaiting his sentencing after a phone hearing with Brendan Shanahan.  I’m expecting a five game suspension for the hit.  Brief story from TSN.ca. with a load of commentary.

Tampa on the other hand has lost four of five games and has been outscored 19-5 in those loses which included a 7-1 trouncing by the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Dwayne Roloson was in net for six of those goals, and Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis were both a career -4 that night.  It’s possible that Roloson might be showing his age (42) as he’s given up four or more goals in five starts this month, been pulled twice and has a 3.46 GAA on the year.  Tampa coach Guy Boucher has already indicated Mathieu Garon will get the start in goal tonight.  Garon has surrendered 5 goals in two starts against Florida this season and is 3-3-1 on the year with a 2.81 GAA.

Steven Stamkos leads the team in goals with 11 and points with 20, and the next closest closest point getter is defenceman Marc Andre Bergeron who has 17.  Bergeron a defenceman not known necessarily for his defensive play is a dangerous player with the puck, especially on the power play. He has the uncanny ability to find the open man as his 14 assists on the year indicate.  Tampa currently sits at 12th in the Eastern Conference.  A disappointing showing so far after making a long playoff run last season taking the Boston Bruins to a seventh game in the conference finals.

Both teams will meet on Saturday night in Tampa where Florida is 3-0-2 in it’s last five games.

Hope to see you tonight!

Nerdy Stats:

* The Florida Panthers have currently lost 63 man games to injury.

* Florida leads the series 55-28-10-8 all time,with a 32-9-4-6 record at home.

* The Panthers record (12-6-3) after 21 games is their best since they went 13-3-5 in 96-97.

* Tampa has only allowed five power play goals on the road this season.

* Tampa is 5-0-2 in one goal games this season.

* Steven Stamkos has scored a goal in four of his past six road games.

* Vincent Lecavalier is one assist shy of 450 in his career.

* In seven career games against Florida Mathieu Garon is 2-2-2 with a 2,47 GAA.

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