Panthers-Lightning Preview

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

neutral-zone trap.

“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.”