Resume the rivalry? Tampa Bay Lightning versus Florida Panthers preview

Al Messerschmidt

With the Tampa Bay Lightning riding high, are the Florida Panthers (tonight's opponents) licking their wounds from their loss to the Flyers on Saturday, or licking their chops while thinking of redemption and a victory in Tampa?

WHERE: Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
WHEN: 7:30 PM EST | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 970 WFLA (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Litter Box Cats, On Frozen Pond

If things had gone according to plan conceived in between the NHL schedule makers, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers (tonight's opponent), there would have been a total of nine games played between the two clubs between the preseason and the regular season.

For those who have been chaffing for a rivalry, a real rivalry between the Lightning and the Panthers that took advantage of both teams playing well at the same time, the 2012-2013 NHL season should have given both clubs the chance to kindle that flame back into a fire.

So, with a tip of the cap and an extension of my middle finger, I salute the 2012 NHL lockout and the belligerence of all involved in the matter. Thank you for preventing the one thing the NHL thinks is the only legit marketing aspect of the game: a division rivalry.

Of course, things could still happen. The Lightning and the Panthers dance five times this season. Right now, the Panthers could be looked at as experiencing a sophomore slump under head coach Kevin Dineen; a four game losing streak after an opening night win and still tasting the humiliation of a 7-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night... Nothing seemed to go right in that game and... and... That sounds familiar... Too familiar, in fact.

Perhaps it's a sign of how functional this Lightning team is... Or it's just a matter of time before it rears its head again, but the Lightning have yet to encounter a lop-sided loss like the one the Cats suffered in Sunrise. Those lop-sided losses were common place during good times (2010-11) and poor times (2011-12). They were too ridiculously common.

I bring that unpleasant memory up because this has the potential to be a trap game. A seemingly lowly opponent after a bitter game against a rival (Flyers); the Bolts riding high on a three game winning streak ("three is a fluke, four is a streak") while the Panthers need to make a statement after their loss and the strong remarks by Dineen in the press.

Can the Lightning keep rolling and getting contributions from everyone? Or do we have the makings of a road bump by way of the team out of Sunrise?

Anders Lindback is penciled in as the starter for the Lightning tonight, and the Lightning will roll with the same lineup as they had on Sunday, meaning Brendan Mikkelson, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Pierre-Cedric Labrie will all be scratched. Lindback, making his fifth start of the season, will be trying to whittle down his 3 goals-against average. His .913 save percentage is sound but could always be better.

Some of the news out of South Florida yesterday was that 19-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau will remain with the Panthers instead of being returned to his junior club, the St. John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL... Huberdeau is one of the names thrown around as a player to watch in the Calder Cup race (NHL rookie of the year). He has three points in five games, making him 6th on a list of active rookies. The other notable rookie playing tonight, Tampa Bay's Cory Conacher had his four-game point streak snapped at the hands of the Flyers on Sunday.

The Bolts will use the same lineup from Sunday against the Flyers, so Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Brendan Mikkelson and Marc-Andre Bergeron are out tonight.

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