Lightning-Panthers Preview

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.

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.

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


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


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


“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


Florida and Tampa Bay have split their past 20 overall games,

but the Panthers have won 15 of 21 home matchups with the