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Contenders confrontation; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Florida Panthers

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Florida's vying for their 5th ever playoff berth while the Lightning look to hold on to a playoff spot in a tight divisional race.

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports


Where:
Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida | When: 5 PM EST
Radio: 970 AM WFLA | Television: FS Florida Sun | Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Litter Box Cats, The Rat Trick

The Lightning are looking to simply make the playoffs at this point in time and the Florida Panthers are at the top of the standings in the Atlantic Division and close to the top in the overall NHL.  Mighty familiar for old fans... Here's the Atlantic Division as it was set up 20 years ago to the day via Hockey-Reference:

Atlantic Division

GP

W

L

T

P

GF

GA

New York Rangers

47

28

11

8

64

175

130

Florida Panthers

44

28

12

4

60

158

116

Philadelphia Flyers

45

24

12

9

57

158

114

Washington Capitals

44

21

18

5

47

123

112

Tampa Bay Lightning

44

19

18

7

45

131

150

New Jersey Devils

45

19

22

4

42

116

115

New York Islanders

43

12

23

8

32

125

161

In essence, the Cats were 3 points ahead of where they sit right now, and the Lightning were 5 points behind where they stood. The fact I'm pulling up age-old data like this is only because 20 years ago both clubs made the NHL playoffs for the first time.  The Panthers appearance - they went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals - has been one of only four in franchise history. It was also the only time the team made it past the first round of the playoffs.

Suffice it to say, where Florida stands at the moment (and where the likes of Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo are driving them) is heading for the history books for the franchise. A 12-game winning streak was snapped in recent days for the Panthers, but their 57 points (26-13-5 in 44 games played) still has them topping the Atlantic Division and 12 points behind the Washington Capitals for the Eastern Conference lead. Jagr leads the Cats in points (15 goals, 17 assists) while Jonathan Huberdeau leads the team in assists (24; 31 total points). Alexandre Barkov, Jussi Jokinen, Vincent Trocheck, Reilly Smith and Brandon Pirri all have over 20 points on the season, leading the team.

It's in the crease where the Panthers are the most intimidating - between Luongo and Al Montoya; the Panthers have a 1.95 GAA (2.18 for Luongo, 1.71 for Montoya). Luongo has been tabbed to start this evening - on top of his low GAA, he has a .927 save percentage in his 35 games played (34 starts). He faces more shots on goal per game slightly than what Ben Bishop has seen. In one more game/game start, Luongo has faced 1025 shots, allowing a total of 75 goals. Ben Bishop, who has not been deemed the starter for the Lightning as of this preview, has faced 907 shots on goal in his 34 games played (33 starts), allowing only 67 goals.

In short, if standards are held in the crease then this should be a tight contest. Both teams have offensive ability but the challenge is going to end up being lamp-lighting.

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