Series finale; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Florida Panthers preview

WHERE: Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
WHEN: 7 PM EST | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 970 WFLA (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Litter Box Cats, On Frozen Pond

The week of Southeast heat is reaching it's climax tonight at Times Palace as the Bolts square off against the division-leading Florida Panthers. The week in general has been a brouhaha of back-to-back contests for Washington, Winnipeg and the Panthers (Washington played back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday, Winnipeg played back-to-back on Thursday and Friday, and the Panthers will be playing the second of back-to-back games tonight) that have further cemented the division standings:

Southeast Standings

Florida 50 24 15 11 59
Washington 50 26 20 4 56
Winnipeg 53 24 23 6 54
Tampa Bay 50 22 23 5 49
Carolina 53 19 25 9 47

(updated 2.4.2012 at 8:30 AM EST)

Is it good news to be able to report that the Bolts competed in both their earlier contests this week - against the Caps and the former-Thrashers - without the aid of either team having played the night before? It's a little late now to appreciate moral victories for a team that hasn't given up on the season. But it's also important not to look at the remainder of the season in a negative fashion as well; they can't give up and lose hope because they are nearly out of contention, nor should they when they do fall out of contention.

Tonight marks the season series finale between Tampa Bay and the Siamese of Sunrise. While Florida is on top of the division and has a formidable 9-2-3 record against the Southeast Division this season. Well, They are 2-1-2 against the Lightning this season (which brings us back to how messed up team records are with that third column: Tampa Bay is 3-1-1 against the Panthers in comparison o the Cats 2-1-2 record against TB), which means Tampa has proven the Cats are fallible.

And now, the Bolts have two advantages - playing a team that played the night before, and playing the game at home.

Martin St. Louis reaches another milestone tonight. He broke 800 career points earlier this season, he notched his 300th goal scored with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now, Marty will play in his 900th career NHL game. That's quite a feat for a player who didn't even think he'd stick around with the Bolts (let alone remain in the league).

Ryan Malone skated before practice, on his own. He's not going to be back in the lineup this forthcoming week, but there is progress. Also making progress are both Adam Hall and Marc-Andre Bergeron. Hall was expected to be out six weeks, and there is speculation he could be back in the lineup against LA on Tuesday. He was in a no-contact jersey for today's morning skate. Bergeron practiced yesterday without the no-contact jersey, and he could play tonight if there was a dire need for another defenseman... But with the Bolts having seven healthy defensemen, Bergeron will sit out tonight as he is not quite in game shape yet.

Brett Connolly was scratched from Thursday night's game. It's been noted by both bloggers and the beat reporters that Brett's play had regressed. And Brett himself was aware of it. He'll be back in the lineup tonight, and hopefully less of a defensive liability (as he saw it).

Mathieu Garon gets the start in net for the Lightning.

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