Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: BB&T Center
Broadcast/Streaming: SunS, FS-F
Opponent SBNation Site: Litter Box Cats
Tonight’s game couldn’t feature two teams with more different seasons. The Tampa Bay Lightning are tied for first in the NHL, while the Florida Panthers are last in the Atlantic Division. Nonetheless, it’s been an eventful couple of days for Floridian-based teams on all fronts.
The Panthers, who end up playing an ungodly five games in seven nights once tonight’s game is all said and done, played four straight one-goal games. But if you think they might be fatigued heading into tonight’s game, you might be mistaken: despite allowing the opening goal and needing to claw back to force the game to overtime, Florida controlled most of the play and finished the night with nearly 70% possession (outshooting Buffalo 43-24). If teams continue to underestimate them, it wont be long before the Panthers climb out of the Atlantic Division basement.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has won four of their last five games (including a 7-3 drumming of the Panthers last Wednesday). They unseated the Sabres after ending their 10-game win streak on Thursday and are back at the top of the league (the Sabres tied them with the extra point they earned against Florida). They haven’t faltered without Andrei Vasilevskiy (although they could do with giving Louis Domingue a rest at some point) and got Ondrej Palat back on Thursday after he missed 16 games with an injury.
However, a rough and chippy game against Buffalo saw two defensemen leave, and only one would return. Thankfully, Dan Girardi showed no ill effects from his collision with Tage Thompson and was at practice yesterday morning. But it was Ryan McDonagh who took the nastier spill of the two, a jarring headfirst fall into the boards courtesy of a dangerous cross-check from Jack Eichel. McDonagh left the game, and the Lightning have announced he is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
With McDonagh joining Anton Stralman on the injured list of Lightning blueliners, it should be interesting to see how Jon Cooper shuffles the defense pairings ahead of their tilt with Florida (we tried to figure it out). Slater Koekkoek will draw back into the lineup but exactly how the pairs are arranged remains o be seen.
The forwards have been hit with injuries too. Ryan Callahan missed practice on Wednesday for unspecified reasons and Adam Erne was still out with an illness. However, if both aren’t ready to go, Danick Martel can slide into the fourth line. If both are ready, the Lightning will have to make a decision about who to scratch. Palat’s return to the lineup means the team has thirteen forwards who deserve playing time.
The Panthers have injury news too! Head coach Bob Boughner announced before the Sabres game that they would give James Reimer the start on Friday in hopes that Roberto Luongo would be healthy enough to return against the Lightning on Saturday. Luongo has missed the last three games with a lower-body injury, but practiced with the team yesterday. While that decision likely won’t come until warmups tonight, if Luongo is unable to go, it will be Michael Hutchinson starting in goal for Florida.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Yanni Gourde - Steven Stamkos - Mathieu Joseph
Tyler Johnson - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - J.T. Miller
Ondrej Palat - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan
Adam Erne (ill)
Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi
Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev
Slater Koekkoek - Erik Cernak
Injured: Anton Stralman, Ryan McDonagh
Evgenii Dadonov - Aleksander Barkov - Mike Hoffman
Jonathan Huberdeau - Jared McCann - Dryden Hunt
Frank Vatrano - Nick Bjugstad - Troy Brouwer
Micheal Haley - Juho Lammikko - Colton Sceviour
Injured: Vincent Trocheck, Derek MacKenzie, Jamie McGinn, Denis Malgin
Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson - Mark Pysyk
Alex Petrovic - Mackenzie Weegar