Battle in Florida: Panthers at Lightning

With less than two weeks to go in the regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning could easily win their division or miss the playoffs entirely.

The Lightning look to regroup following a disheartening loss and resume their push for the postseason when they host the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.

With 86 points, Tampa Bay (41-31-4) is only two behind Southeast Division-leading Atlanta.

Oddsmakers have made Tampa Bay -175 money line (NHL Odds) favorites for todays game, the over/under has been set at 6 total goals (View NHL Sports Books). Our public betting information shows that 51% of bets for this game have been placed on Florida + 155 (View NHL Bet Percentages).

The Lightning are 5-2-0 against the Thrashers this season, and the division title may not be decided until the teams meet in Atlanta for their regular season finale April 7.

Although the Lightning are fighting for their third division title in the franchise's 14-year history, they are hardly playoff locks. They're in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, just ahead of the New York Islanders, Carolina and Montreal, who are tied for eighth with 84 points.

Tampa Bay won the first two games of its four-game homestand, but fell 7-2 to Ottawa on Saturday in its most lopsided home loss of the season.

"This game is done,'' Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "We're already by it. There's no sense in looking back.''

Dan Boyle scored both goals Saturday, while Vincent Lecavalier added two assists to become the first Tampa Bay player to reach 100 points in a season.

Lecavalier has eight goals and eight assists in 11 games this month, and two goals and four assists in six games against the Panthers (31-30-14) this season.

Right wing Martin St. Louis is three points away from becoming the second Lightning player with 100 points. He has four goals and four assists in his last five contests against Florida.

Tampa Bay is 3-2-1 against the Panthers this season, winning both games at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Goaltender Marc Denis started both of the home games against Florida, allowing just three goals in those contests, while Johan Holmqvist is 1-1-1 with a 4.53 GAA in four starts against the Panthers in 2006-07.

Denis, though, allowed five goals on 23 shots in 42 minutes before being pulled Saturday. He's just 1-3-0 with a 3.90 goals-against average in his last five games.

Florida is eight points out of the three-way tie for the final playoff spot in the East and will likely miss the postseason for the sixth straight time. The Panthers lost 4-3 to New Jersey in a shootout Saturday after blowing a 2-0 second-period advantage.

"In the second period, we were controlling the play, but a couple of mistakes and the puck's in our net,'' coach Jacques Martin said.

Florida has lost four of its last six games, and has been terrible with the man advantage lately. It failed to convert on its only power-play chance against the Devils and is 0-for-25 in the last eight games.

The Panthers might be able to end that drought Tuesday, as Tampa Bay is tied with Phoenix for the worst penalty-killing percentage in the league at 78.4. Florida has converted seven of 27 (25.9 percent) power-play chances against the Lightning this season.

Olli Jokinen scored his team-leading 36th goal Saturday, and has five goals and five assists in his last four games. With 151 goals, Jokinen is one behind Pavel Bure for second place on Florida's career list. He has two goals and five assists against the Lightning this season.

These teams conclude their season series at the St. Pete Times Forum on April 6.

by: Gary Roberts - - Email Us

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