Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: Florida Live Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: ESPN+, BSSUN, BSFL
Opponent SBNation Site: Litter Box Cats
Later tonight (COVID-willing) the Lightning and Panthers will meet up for the third time this season and seemingly the 458th time in the calendar year 2021. Both teams are coming off of wins with Tampa Bay having defeated Montreal 5-4 in overtime on Tuesday and Florida recording a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers on Wednesday.
For the Panthers their come-from-behind win was their first game since December 16th and their first victory since a 3-1 triumph over the Arizona Coyotes on the 10th. Injuries and COVID protocols have sent Florida stumbling in the standings of late. Now, however, it appears that they are back on track as Aleksander Barkov, Maxim Mamin, Mason Marchment, and Jonathan Huberdeau all returned for the game against the Rangers and are expected to play against the Lightning tonight.
The Panthers struggles without their top players like Barkov (who had been out since December 7th) highlights how impressive the Lightning’s run has been of late (9-1 in December) where they’ve managed to rocket up the standings without the services of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Erik Cernak due to injuries.
While Point made a glorious return with two goals against the Canadiens, the Lightning are now adapting to short-term life without Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev, and Andrei Vasilevskiy, and others due to COVID protocols. Even with the reduced quarantine for vaccinated players in the United States it’s too soon to expect any of their isolated players back for tonight’s game.
So that means, once again, the Lightning will have to Find-a-Way. Last game it was Sean Day and Max Lagace jumping into the line-up to help with the win. Who knows who it will be tonight? Lagace will probably get the start (with the possibility of Hugo Alnefelt going against the New York Rangers tomorrow). Alex Barre-Boulet is back with the club as he was recalled to the taxi squad this morning and may draw in for another shot at regular playing time.
Who knows, maybe Darren Raddysh will get the call on defense and join his brother, Taylor, [update - scratch that. The Lightning announced that Taylor (and Cal Foote) are in COVID protocol..Justin] on the ice. That would make for a nice moment. Whoever gets the call, chances are they will be prepared to help the Lightning win. One of the hallmarks of the affiliation between the Lightning and the Syracuse Crunch has been that the players called up have always been prepared to play when they arrive. Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx and his staff deserve a tremendous amount of credit for putting the youngsters in the position where they can transfer to the NHL without too much of a learning gap.
It should be an entertaining match-up, and while both teams aren’t quite at full strength, they do have enough offensive firepower to challenge the other’s defense. Florida will have a slight edge in the net as Spencer Knight will likely take the spot between the pipes. The youngster has struggled in his second year in the league, posting a 6-4-2 record with a 3.42 GAA and .892 SV% as the back-up. Still, Lightning fans are quite aware of how good the 20-year-old can be based on his performance in Game Five of last year’s first round match-up and the 30-save performance he posted against them in the Panthers’ 4-1 win back in October.
Tampa Bay Lightning Lines
Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - (?)
Alex Killorn - Brayden Point - Mathieu Joseph
Pat Maroon - Ross Colton - Corey Perry
Boris Katchouk - Riley Nash - Gabriel Fortier
Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh - Zach Bogosian
(?) - Sean Day
Update: Good news - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare is out of protocol!
Bad News: Cal Foote and Taylor Raddysh are in protocol!
Florida Panthers Lines
Carter Verhaeghe - Aleksander Barkov - Anthony Duclair
Jonathan Huberdeau - Sam Bennett - Sam Reinhart
Mason Marchment - Anton Lundell - Maxim Mamin
Ryan Lomberg - Eetu Luostarinen - Patric Hornqvist
MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad
Gustav Forsling - Radko Gudas
Lucas Carlsson - Brandon Monour