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Panthers-Lightning Preview

AP - Sports

Mired in their longest slide of the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning believe there's no reason to panic.

Especially with the lowly Florida Panthers in town.

The Lightning can avoid a sixth straight defeat by recording their first season series sweep of the Panthers on Thursday night.

Tampa Bay (34-24-7) has lost 10 of 13 and won once in seven games since the Olympic break. Owners of the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, the Lightning are two points ahead of Philadelphia, which holds the last playoff position.

As they adjust to life without longtime leader Martin St. Louis and with star Steven Stamkos back from an injury, the Lightning don't seem too concerned about their current 0-3-2 slide.

Though Tampa Bay has allowed at least three goals in each of those five games, it believes progress was made during a pair of 4-3 home shootout losses to Boston and Phoenix in the last two. Ondrej Palat scored with 37.2 seconds left to force overtime Monday against the Coyotes, but the Lightning missed all three shootout chances.

"When it rains it usually pours," goaltender Ben Bishop told the Lightning's official website. "Now it seems to be pouring a little bit, but I'm not worried. We've played well the last few games, so we just need to stay with it and the tide will change, I know it."

If the Lightning are to end their recent struggles they'll likely need Stamkos and Bishop to produce.

Stamkos has eight shots but no points in three games since missing 45 with a broken leg.

"It's going to take him a little time to get back to normal," coach Jon Cooper said.

Bishop has a career-low 2.10 goals-against average this season, but a 3.15 GAA during his four-game losing streak. After allowing three goals just five times in 27 starts from Nov. 22 until the Olympics, he's given up that many in five of six starts since the break.

"It's one of those times of the year where you're not getting any breaks," he said. "I'm just getting some fluky goals on me."

Facing the Panthers (24-34-7) could help both players get back on track.

Bishop is 3-0-0 with a 1.09 GAA versus Florida, and has been in net for two of the Lightning's three victories against the Panthers this season.

Stamkos has 21 goals and 15 assists in 30 career games versus Florida, including four with two assists in two this season. He recorded a hat trick and added an assist during Tampa Bay's 7-2 home rout of the Panthers on Oct. 10.

With two of their four highest-scoring games this season coming against the Panthers, the Lightning owned a 17-6 goal advantage in the three meetings.

Also losers in 10 of 13, the Panthers have totaled six goals while losing three of four. Brandon Pirri scored as Florida fell 3-1 to Phoenix on Tuesday.

Pirri earned his first point in four games since he was acquired from Chicago last week.

Roberto Luongo has yielded seven goals on 67 shots in the last two contests after making 25 saves in Friday's 2-0 victory over Buffalo - his first game since Vancouver dealt him back to Florida.

He's posted a 3.39 GAA during a three-game losing streak at Tampa, but hasn't faced the Lightning since February 2010.

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