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Panthers at Lightning preview: Will we see a little bad blood between these rivals?

Dec 27, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) and Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad (5) fight during the third period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Game #56 – Florida Panthers (30-20-5) at Tampa Bay Lightning (35-15-4)
Time: 5:00 PM EST
Location: Amalie Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: BSSUN, BSFL, ESPN+, Hulu

Opponent’s Site: Litter Box Cats


A couple of streaks are coming to a head at Amalie Arena this evening. The Florida Panthers have been absolute beasts on the road as they’ve won their last 10 games away from their home arena. Meanwhile, the Lightning have been striking down opponent after opponent at home as they have won eight in a row at Amalie Arena. Why not throw some more gas on the intra-state rivalry?

It’s meeting two of three between the two Sunshine State teams and the only one that will be at Amalie. Back in December the Panthers won 3-2 as Sam Reinhart scored twice, including a short-handed goal in the third period that proved to be the difference. The most surprising stat of the match-up was that the teams only combined for 24 penalty minutes.

Speaking of Reinhart, the pending unrestricted free agent has picked a wonderful time to have a career season as he’s leading the team with 65 points (39 goals, 26 assists). Despite those gaudy season totals, he’s actually third on the team in scoring since the turn of the calendar. Matthew Tkachuk has rediscovered his point-gathering totals after a slow start and is leading the league in points since January 1 as he’s posted 33 points (13 goals, 20 assists) in 18 games. Old friend Carter Verhaeghe is 8th in scoring since New Years with 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 18 games.

We’ve always known that the Panthers can score, but what has propelled them into first place in the division is their defense. They are allowing 2.44 goals per game, which is the second-best number in the league. Sergei Bobrovsky, who will likely be in net after Anthony Stolarz poster a 45-save shutout against Buffalo in their last game, has had a career resurgence. Officer Bob is 26-10-2 in 39 games with a .914 SV%, 2.42 GA, and 13.11 GSAx.

The Panthers haven’t just been relying on their goaltending. They have given up the second fewest scoring chances at 5v5 as well as the fifth fewest high-danger chances against. They aren’t wowing anyone with their blocked shots or takeaways, they just hold onto the puck and shoot it more than almost any team in the league. It’s basically the Carolina Hurricanes game plan with better defense in the high-danger areas.

So it’s going to be a tough match-up for the Bolts even before you consider the fact that they don’t know if two of their forwards are going to be able to play. Both Nick Paul, who is fifth on the teams in goals, and Tanner Jeannot are game-time decisions who are most likely out according to reports from practice yesterday.

It wouldn’t be shocking to see Coach Cooper go with an 11/7 line-up and cycle Calvin de Haan back into the rotation. That would also allow him to double shift some of his top players and hopefully get them as many prime match-up opportunities as possible. No matter what they do as far as personnel, expect them to ride the stars (Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Brayden Point) as much as possible.

In the 17 games since New Year’s Day, that line has combined for 11 goals at 5v5. Every other combination for the Lightning has recorded just 23 goals over that same time frame. Digging a little deeper, the Bolts have only scored 16 5v5 goals when all three of them have been on the bench looking at their iPads. They have been the engine that drives the Lightning.

While they’ve been driving the goalscoring, Andrei Vasilevskiy is back to doing Vasy Things. He’s 11-4-0 since January 1st with a .907 SV%, 2.60 GA, and 5.51 GSAx. Much like the Panthers, the team in front of him has been playing much better than they had earlier in the season. Their 10.15 High-Danger Chances Against over that time frame is the fifth-best mark. The same goes for their scoring chances against which sits at 24.08.

With both teams limiting the scoring recently, this could be a rather low-scoring affair despite all of the offensive talent on the rosters. Both teams have been lethal on the power play as the Lightning lead the league with a 30.4% success rate while the Panthers are at 25.3%. These teams have been known to get under each other’s skins so not losing their composure on the ice will be key to a victory.

Stats Match-up

Game #56Tampa Bay LightningFlorida Panthers
Overall Record30-20-535-15-4
Home Record18-5-316-8-2
Road Record12-15-219-7-2
Goals For189175
Goals Against180132
Power Play30.4%25.3%
Penalty Kill81.3%83.2%
Last 10 Games7-3-08-2-0
Stats via NHL and Natural Stat Trick. Goals For does not include shootout goals.


Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines

Steven Stamkos – Brayden Point – Nikita Kucherov
Brandon Hagel – Anthony Cirelli – Nick Paul (?)
Mikey Eyssimont – Tyler Motte – Conor Sheary

Alex BarrĂ©-Boulet – Luke Glendening – Mitchell Chaffee

Victor Hedman – Darren Raddysh
Haydn Fleury – Erik Cernak
Emil Lilleberg – Nick Perbix

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Jonas Johansson

Florida Panthers Projected Lines

Carter Verhaeghe – Alexsander Barkov – Sam Reinhart

Nick Cousins – Sam Bennett – Matthew Tkachuk

Eetu Luostarinen – Anton Lundell – Evan Rodrigues

Jonah Gadjovich – Kevin Stenlund – Ryan Lomberg

Gustav Forsling – Aaron Ekblad

Niko Mikkola – Brandon Montour

Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Dmitry Kulikov


Sergei Bobrovsky

Anthony Stolarz

The Playoff Race

Atlantic DivisionGames PlayedRecordPointsGames Remaining
Florida Panthers5435-15-47428
Boston Bruins5432-12-107428
Wild CardGames PlayedRecordPointsGames Remaining
Toronto Maple Leafs5228-16-86430
Detroit Red Wings5327-20-66029
New Jersey Devils5327-22-45829
Top 3 teams in the Atlantic make the playoffs, top two wild card teams also make the playoffs
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