Panthers-Lightning Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated January 28, 2013
The high-scoring Tampa Bay Lightning are unbeaten at home and full of confidence. The low-scoring Florida Panthers have been abysmal in four straight defeats, although they are getting some badly needed help. These Southeast Division rivals meet for the first time Tuesday night, with the visiting Panthers expecting Kris Versteeg to make his season debut. Florida (1-4-0) won the division a season ago and Tampa Bay (4-1-0) finished 10 points back in third, but they are on opposite ends of it now. Tampa Bay cruised to a 5-1 victory over Philadelphia on Sunday. Martin St. Louis contributed four assists and Steven Stamkos took his season total to 10 points with a goal and an assist. The Lightning are the highest scoring team in the NHL at 4.8 goals per game. "When you get a little confidence going, as our offensive players have right now, you try to run with it," Stamkos said. "We know, once we get on a roll, we're a tough team to beat." The Panthers celebrated their first division title banner in style in their opener, a 5-1 victory over Carolina on Jan. 19 that featured a four-goal first period. Florida has totaled four goals over its next 14 periods, and has been outscored 18-3 in this losing streak. The Panthers will now try to avoid losing five straight in regulation for the first time since Feb. 1-11, 2010, after Saturday's 7-1 home defeat to the Flyers. "I hate referring to last season but that's our standard right now," defenseman Mike Weaver said. "We've got to be better than that, we've got to build off that and we haven't done that." There is good news for the Panthers on Versteeg, their third-leading scorer last season with 54 points. The winger has been out with a groin injury. "I'm excited to get him back," coach Kevin Dineen told the Panthers' official Twitter account. "He's a large part of our lineup." It's not clear whether linemate Stephen Weiss will miss a third straight game with a lower-body injury. The projected top line of Versteeg, Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann has four points. That doesn't come close to matching St. Louis, Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier, who have combined for 27 with eight goals this season. That trio combined for 23 points in the 2011-12 season series, as Tampa Bay went 4-1-1. Versteeg, Weiss and Fleischmann combined for 16 in those games. Eight skaters have multiple goals for the Lightning, who are 3-0 at home. "We're spreading the offense pretty good right now,'' Stamkos said. "We're not forcing things to certain players. We're making the right play.'' This will likely be Anders Lindback's first start against the Panthers with the Lightning and second overall. He recorded his first career shutout with 22 saves in Nashville's 3-0 win over on Florida on Dec. 11, 2010. Struggling Florida goalie Jose Theodore has gone 5-0-0 with a 2.01 goals-against average in his last five starts in Tampa.
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