GameDay Caterwaul: Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Lightning

Cats go for seven straight in final regular season meeting with Bolts

Panthers (32-25-6 70P) at Lightning (45-17-4 94P)

  • WHEN: 7:30 p.m. ET - LBC GameThread right here at 7:00ish
  • WHERE: Amalie Arena - Tampa, FL
  • ON THE TUBE: FOX Sports Florida, SUN Sports
  • ON THE DIAL: 560 WQAM (D/B), 640 WMEN (PB), 1370 WAXE (TC), Thunder 100.3 (Keys)
  • SOCIALS: #FlaPanthers, #GoBolts, #FLAvsTBL, @LitterBoxCats, LBC FaceBook
  • ENEMY INTEL: Raw Charge
  • SB NATION: Game Feature Hub
  • FLA IN SEASON SERIES: Game 4 of 4 (1-2-0)
  • ALL-TIME vs TBL: 65W-41L-10T 5TL 8SOL 400GF 356GA
  • ALL-TIME at TBL: 27W-28L-6T 1OTL 3SOL 191GF 184GA
  • LAST MEETING:  TBL 8, @ FLA 5 - (Recap) - 10/30/2017
  • NEXT MEETING: Playoffs or 2018-19
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Luongo (12-7-1 .930/2.50 1SO) vs Vasilevskiy (38-12-3 .926/2.41 7SO)
  • PLAYER STATS: Florida / Tampa Bay/

Scouting Report (Courtesy of the AP)

The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers have a natural rivalry as cross-state siblings in the NHL, but that can move to another level if the two franchises meet in the playoffs this season.

Right now, it’s close to lining up as the teams prepare for their fourth and final meeting of the regular season. Tampa Bay (45-17-4) entered Monday’s games with the best record in the league, just ahead of Nashville by a point. Surging Florida (32-25-6) has pushed themselves into the playoff picture.

Florida has won six straight -- all at home -- and is 13-3 in their last 16 games, pulling within a point of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with three fewer games played than Columbus, just ahead in the points standings.

”I think we’ve really bought into the system,” Florida’s Keith Yandle said after a 4-1 win Sunday against Philadelphia. “It’s a good thing when you can get wins and play within your structure.”

Florida isn’t a dominating team statistically -- they’ve scored at least three goals in all six wins, and the games against Tampa Bay have all been high scoring games. The teams opened the season with a back-to-back. Tampa Bay won 5-3 and Florida answered with a 5-4 victory; the Lightning posted an 8-5 win in a third meeting in October.

Three months later, they meet again -- Florida, ranking 25th in defense and 21st in the penalty kill, must contain a Tampa Bay team that leads the NHL in goals per game and ranks third in power play, converting 24 percent of its opportunities.

Tampa Bay has the league’s leading scorer in Nikita Kucherov, with 33 goals and 52 assists for 85 points, but the Lightning continue to get contributions from younger players. The latest is 20-year-old rookie Anthony Cirelli, who had a goal and assist in his NHL debut this week against Dallas.

Despite playing in two career NHL games, Cirelli can appreciate the urgency he expects to continue seeing on the ice every night.

”It’s at the point in the year where teams are battling for a playoff spot,” said Cirelli, Tampa Bay’s third-round pick in 2015. “The intensity is up and both teams want two points every night.”

The Lightning are leading the NHL standings and have just started an eight-game homestand.

Florida hopes to continue its momentum as it returns home for another five straight after Tuesday’s game. Seven of the next eight after that are on the road, so squirreling away points in a tight wild-card race is crucial.

Florida has a strong young nucleus on the scoring end. Aleksander Barkov, 22, leads the team with 64 points (25 goals), with 24-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau and 24-year-old Vincent Trocheck close behind.

Within the six-game win streak, Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov each have five goals and five assists.

Tuesday in the Atlantic (Standings/Panthers Playoff Chances):

  • DETROIT (26-29-10 62P) at BOSTON (40-15-8 88P) 7 p.m. NBCSN
  • MONTREAL (25-29-11 61P) at New Jersey (33-25-8 74P) 7 p.m./

Idle: TOR (85P), OTT (56P), BUF (53P)

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