Lightning vs. Panthers

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Sunrise, FL - Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos finished off his 51-goal season in 2009-10 by tallying three times in a home-and-home sweep of the Florida Panthers.

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When Stamkos faces the Panthers again Saturday night, he will try to tie a franchise record by scoring a goal in his eighth consecutive game and lead the Lightning to their second 4-0 start in team history.

Oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made the Panthers –110 money line favorites for Saturday's game against the Lightning. Current MLB Public Betting Information shows that 67% of more than 627 bets for this game have been placed on the Panthers -110.

Stamkos' outburst against Florida at the end of 2009-10 gave him five goals in his final four games and helped him finish tied for the NHL lead with Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby.

The 2008 No. 1 overall draft pick is again among the league's goal leaders with four during Tampa Bay's 3-0 start under first-year coach Guy Boucher. Stamkos opened the scoring in Thursday's 3-2 victory over Philadelphia, giving him six points this season.

The Lightning haven't won their first four games since a franchise-best 6-0 start to their 2003-04 Stanley Cup-winning season.

They also haven't had a player score in eight straight contests since Brian Bradley from Nov. 11-24, 1992. Stamkos also posted a seven-game goal-scoring streak from Feb. 13-March 11.

Stamkos and Tampa Bay have a good opportunity to accomplish both of those feats Saturday. The Lightning center scored five goals in last season's six matchups with the Panthers (1-2-0), matching his most versus one opponent.

Overall, he has six goals and four assists in 11 career games against the Southeast Division rivals.

Tampa Bay also comes into this matchup averaging 4.0 goals while Florida has managed 2.0 per contest. Last season, the Lightning averaged 2.60 goals while missing the playoffs for the third consecutive year and the Panthers averaged 2.46.

"We're a team that's struggled for the last couple of years, and we're trying to establish a new identity," goaltender Dan Ellis said. "We're trying to be a team that can dominate and never give up. That we're a relentless group. I think we're starting to show that."

After suffering a pair of one-goal defeats to begin its season-opening road trip, Florida showed its resilience with a 3-0 victory over Calgary to finish that trek Thursday night. Tomas Vokoun stopped 27 shots, and Radek Dvorak scored twice in the first 7:25.

"This is my fourth year in Florida and this is one of the best games I've seen us play," Vokoun said. "We were playing exactly how we wanted and it was a great effort from everybody."

Vokoun, who could start the Panthers' home opener, has a 1.69 goals-against average in his first three games. He is 3-1-1 with a 2.11 GAA in his last five appearances against the Lightning.

Since coming to the Panthers before the 2007-08 season, he's 4-1-1 at home against Tampa Bay despite a 3.12 GAA.

The Lightning could give Ellis another start as he's 3-0 with a 1.99 GAA in three meetings versus Florida. Mike Smith, meanwhile, is 3-4-2 with a 3.17 GAA in nine career matchups against the Panthers.

Florida and Tampa Bay have split their past 20 overall games, but the Panthers have won 15 of 21 home matchups with the Lightning.

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