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Lightning vs. Panthers: Battle of Florida (so you’re telling me there’s a chance edition)

With both teams on the fringe of the playoff picture, the Battle of Florida should feature two teams desperate for a win.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Florida Panthers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

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

Preview:

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.

Comparison chart:

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Yanni Gourde - Jonathan Drouin

Adam Erne - Matthew Peca - Yanni Gourde

Gabriel Dumont - Greg McKegg - JT Brown

Defense Pairings

Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin

Jason Garrison - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Peter Budaj

Opponent lines

Forward Lines

Reilly Smith - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr

Jonathan Huberdeau - Vincent Trocheck - Colton Sceviour

Thomas Vanek - Nick Bjugstad - Jonathan Marchessault

Jussi Jokinen - Derek Mackenzie - Denis Malgin

Defense Pairings

Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad

Mark Psysk - Alex Petrovic

Michael Matheson - Jason Demers

Goalies

Reto Barra

James Reimer