The Southeast Division rivals close out a home-and-home series Saturday night when they meet at the BankAtlantic Center for the first time this season.
After tallying a pair of unanswered, third-period goals in a 3-2 victory over Florida on Oct. 12, the Lightning (18-18-10) couldn’t hold on to a 2-1 lead in the final period Thursday, falling 3-2 as Cory Stillman(notes) and Rostislav Olesz(notes) scored for the visiting Panthers (19-20-8).
Tampa Bay is 13-2-1 when ahead after 40 minutes.
“I wish we had a little more inspired play by some guys,” said Lightning coach Rick Tocchet, whose team has alternated wins and losses in its last eight contests.
Martin St. Louis(notes), who leads Tampa Bay with 40 assists and 52 points, looks to bounce back after missing on a penalty shot with 4:55 remaining Thursday that would have made it 3-all and extended his point streak to 12.
“I’m disappointed with our thought process,” said St. Louis, who has three goals and seven assists in his last five games versus Florida. “Everybody is working hard. You’ve got to work smart, especially in a 2-1 game.”
St. Louis had a goal and an assist in the teams’ last meeting in South Florida - a Lightning 4-3 shootout victory on March 14.
“We showed a lot of character and we battled hard,” Vokoun said after the Panthers won for the second time this season in 17 opportunities when trailing entering the third period. “We had good fortune, but sometimes that’s what you need.”
With Mike Smith(notes) still recovering from a strained neck, Antero Niittymaki(notes) is expected to make his second straight start in net for Tampa Bay. Niittymaki, 1-6-1 with a 3.17 goals-against average in his last nine starts, is 2-0-0 with a 0.96 GAA in last two starts at Florida - both with Philadelphia.
Nathan Horton(notes), who leads the Panthers with 29 assists and 45 points, has six goals and seven assists in his last 10 games against Tampa Bay after finding the back of the net in the first period Thursday. He is one point shy of surpassing his total from 2008-09.
The last four matchups between Tampa Bay and Florida have been decided by one goal. The Lightning have won their last two games at the BankAtlantic Center in a shootout.