After rolling into the Olympic break with five wins in their last six games, the Tampa Bay Lightning look to continue their hot play and solidify their standing in the playoff race when they host the Florida Panthers.
With 68 points, the Lightning are unlikely to catch Carolina for the Southeast Division title, sitting 14 points back in second place. Tampa Bay, though, is holding down the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference, two points up on New Jersey and six ahead of eighth-place Montreal.
The defending Stanley Cup champions should be able to qualify for the postseason if they continue to play the way they did before the break, but the 16-day layoff—along with the fact that eight Lightning players participated in the Olympic tournament—could affect their momentum.
Tampa Bay forward Fredrik Modin helped Sweden win its second gold medal Sunday, as the Swedes defeated Finland 3-2 in the final game. Pavel Kubina and Vaclav Prospal played for the Czech Republic, while Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Dan Boyle were on the Canadian team. Goaltender John Grahame played for the United States.
Those eight players make up a large part of the core of the Lightning roster, and it remains to be seen whether fatigue will affect them in the season’s final 24 games.
Lecavalier is the Lightning’s all-time leading scorer against the Panthers with 12 assists and 20 points, but he’s been held pointless in his last five games against Florida, and has just one goal and one assist in the last nine meetings. His last goal against the Panthers came in a 3-2 win Feb. 14, 2004.
The Panthers alternated wins and losses in their final eight games before the break. Leading scorer Olli Jokinen, who faced Modin’s Swedish team as a member of the Finn squad Sunday, has nine goals and 18 points in 28 games against the Lightning.
Other Panthers who participated in the Olympics are center Rostislav Olesz (Czech Republic), defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (Canada), center Jozef Stumpel (Slovakia) and goaltender Roberto Luongo (Canada).
Florida is in 13th place in the East, eight points behind the Canadiens for the final playoff berth. The Panthers have been shut out an NHL-high six times and will be facing a Lightning club that is tied for the league lead with six shutouts.