Though the Florida Panthers entered the opener of the home-and-home series against their in-state rivals with plenty of momentum, it’s the Tampa Bay Lightning that hold the edge for the conclusion of the set between these Southeast Division foes on Saturday night.
Florida had collected at least a point in eight of its previous 11 games (8-2-1) and had blanked two straight opponents heading into its latest meeting with Tampa Bay, which was just 2-9-3 in its last 14 contests.
After allowing the Panthers (16-13-5) to score the tying goal with 13.9 seconds left in regulation, the Lightning (9-16-9) converted three of four attempts in the shootout for a 4-3 victory at BankAtlantic Center on Friday night.
“If it s going to be a shootout, then it’s going to be a shootout,” said Lightning defenseman Steve Eminger, who contributed a goal and two assists. “Don’t be kind of content with this, just keep on going and pushing it.”
Tampa Bay has posted back-to-back wins for the first time since reeling off a season-high three straight from Oct. 28-Nov. 1.
Florida was unable to secure a season high-tying third straight victory, but gained at least a point for the fourth consecutive game.
“We certainly were not at out best (Friday night), but we found a way to salvage a point,” said Panthers defenseman Bryan McCabe, whose sixth goal of the season was the equalizer. “At least we battled really hard on a night we probably weren’t that great, but that’s what you have to do get points.”
If the Panthers plan on extending their point streak, they’ll have to take advantage of a Lightning team that is 0-3-2 at home since Nov. 21.
Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith has posted a 2.09 goals-against average in 12 overall starts at St. Pete Times Forum, where his team is 3-6-6 overall. He beat Florida for the first time in five career starts Friday, and has won back-to-back outings following a personal 11-start slide (0-8-3).
Vokoun - one win shy of 200 for his career - is 3-0-1 with a 1.45 GAA and a .954 save percentage in his last five games, but has allowed 12 goals on 187 shots despite going 3-1-0 in his last five outings versus Tampa Bay.
Anderson has compiled a 1.31 GAA and a .946 save percentage while going 1-1-1 in three career starts versus the Lightning. He posted a 24-save shutout in a 4-0 home rout against them on Nov. 12.
Whichever netminder starts will match up against a Tampa Bay offense that has managed just 78 goals - the second-lowest total in the league.