Florida Panthers (29-26-11, 69 (nice) points) at Tampa Bay Lightning (31-26-9, 71 points): GAME 67
Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: Amalie Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: Sun Sports, Fox Sports Florida
Opponent SBNation Site: Litter Box Cats
The Lightning and Panthers enter tonight’s game in similar positions. Both were expected to make the playoffs before the season. The two Florida teams, along with Montreal, were the favorites from the Atlantic. But hockey in Florida hasn’t gone as planned this year. Neither the Panthers nor Lightning are likely to make the playoffs. Both would need a winning streak and some help from other teams to make it.
The Lightning suffered another setback to their hopes on Thursday against the Wild. Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Cedric Paquette were all injured during the game, leaving the Lightning with only two true centers on the roster. To add some center depth, the Lightning recalled Matthew Peca from Syracuse this morning. If the injuries last more than a few games, that might be the end of the Lightning’s already slim chances of making the playoffs.
The Panthers season has also been a disappointment. Like the Lightning, they’ve faced several significant injuries at forward. The forwards are healthy now but their starting goalie Roberto Luongo is out. Backup James Reimer started yesterday, so unless he plays on a back to back, Reto Barra will be in net tonight. That would help the Lightning who will need any advantage they can get if they hope to compete with this depleted roster.
This game is not what most fans expected a game in March between the Lightning and Panthers would be. But that doesn’t mean it won’t still be a fun intrastate rivalry game. Even if this season hasn’t gone as planned, both teams still have bright futures. Both teams still have plenty of talent. Both teams will want to keep themselves in the discussion for the playoffs. All of that plus the rivalry factor should make for some fun hockey.
So forget the expectations you had earlier in the year. This isn’t two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference battling for supremacy. This is two teams on the fringes of the playoff picture hoping to stay there for another day. And in some ways, that might make this Battle of Florida feel even more important to both teams.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Yanni Gourde - Jonathan Drouin
Adam Erne - Matthew Peca - Yanni Gourde
Gabriel Dumont - Greg McKegg - JT Brown
Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin
Jason Garrison - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr
Reilly Smith - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr
Jonathan Huberdeau - Vincent Trocheck - Colton Sceviour
Thomas Vanek - Nick Bjugstad - Jonathan Marchessault
Jussi Jokinen - Derek Mackenzie - Denis Malgin
Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad
Mark Psysk - Alex Petrovic
Michael Matheson - Jason Demers