The Sunshine State rivalry between the Tampa Bay Lightning and
Florida Panthers continues to produce excitement.
Six of the last nine meetings between these Southeast Division
foes have gone past regulation heading into Saturday night’s finale
of a home-and-home set in Tampa.
The Panthers (12-6-4) won the first two 2011-12 meetings with
the Lightning (10-9-2) this season in October, with one coming in a
shootout. Tampa Bay responded with a 4-3 shootout win Nov. 6 and
rallied from a third-period deficit for a 2-1 overtime win Friday
at Florida on Steven Stamkos’ power-play goal.
“It’s a great feeling. You know the game is over and you get the
two points,” Stamkos said. “To score in overtime, there’s no better
The feeling wasn’t quite the same for the Panthers, who are not
big fans of Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher’s system which features the
“Their system is sit five guys back behind the blue line so it’s
not a fun game to watch, the Lightning when they’re playing anyone
ever,” Florida left wing Kris Versteeg said. “It’s how they play,
they’ve played that system for two years now.”
That method of play suited Tampa Bay on Friday after the club
lost four of its previous five. Mathieu Garon earned his first win
since Oct. 25 with 23 saves.
“The most important thing was to play our game, get pucks in
deep and play fast,” center Nate Thompson told the Lightning’s
official website. “I think when we do that we’re a pretty tough
team and we’re hard to beat.”
Stamkos has six goals and five assists over his previous nine
games. Martin St. Louis assisted on both goals Friday.
Garon and Dwayne Roloson have alternated in goal through most of
the season, with Garon starting three times against Florida.
Roloson’s lone start in the season series was a poor effort, a 7-4
loss Oct. 17.
Panthers coach Kevin Dineen has indicated that rookie Jacob
Markstrom could get his fifth start of the season after Jose
Theodore has started nine of the club’s last 10 games. Markstrom
has never faced Tampa Bay and has a 2.05 GAA this season.
Florida’s three-game win streak ended Friday. Stamkos’ winner is
the only power-play goal the Panthers have allowed in their last
seven games spanning 21 chances.
“We are used to winning so now we have to regroup and make sure
we’re ready tomorrow night,” left wing Tomas Fleischmann said.
Fleischmann scored in the second period before Vinny Lecavalier
tied it in the third for the Lightning.
“They’re a good team,” Lecavalier said. “Playing a divisional
game back-to-back on two consecutive nights will be a great
opportunity for us to get back above .500.”
Versteeg has six points in the first four meetings and Stephen
Weiss has chipped in with five.
“We’re giving away too many points away this season already,”
Versteeg said. “Tomorrow night’s going to have to be a better
outcome if we do have a lead.”