Florida looks to win its fourth in a row over Tampa Bay when these non-playoff teams meet at the St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday night.
The Panthers (32-36-12) and Lightning (32-36-12) are tied for 13th in the Eastern Conference, but Florida has had the upper hand in the season series.
After losing 3-2 in the first meeting, the Panthers have outscored the Lightning 13-6 in winning the last three. Florida is a victory away from taking the season series for the first time since going 5-2-1 in 2006-07.
The Panthers avoided a third straight loss Thursday, beating New Jersey 3-2. Scott Clemmensen(notes) stopped 42 shots, and Radek Dvorak(notes) and Nathan Horton(notes) scored in the third period to help Florida snap a three-game skid at home.
“We only have a couple games left,” said Horton, who has three goals against the Lightning this season. “We’re trying to finish strong. It’s tough to come to the rink. We’re not where we want to be. It’s tough playing these games, but that’s our job.”
Tampa Bay also avoided a third straight defeat Thursday night by defeating Ottawa 4-3 in a shootout, two days after an embarrassing 8-5 home loss to Carolina.
The Lightning, though, still struggled, blowing a 3-0 lead after Teddy Purcell(notes) and Martin St. Louis(notes) scored first-period goals, and Steven Stamkos(notes) added his 48th of the season on a power play early in the second.
“There was a lot of passion,” coach Rick Tocchet said. “I like the passion, but it was just undisciplined. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
“We’re just playing with pride,” Stamkos told the Lightning’s official Web site. “I liked the way the guys came out with passion and with character. It was definitely nice to see.”
The Panthers haven’t reached the postseason since 2000, giving them the NHL’s longest active drought. Tampa Bay has missed the playoffs for three straight years but has its highest point total since its last postseason appearance.
These teams conclude their seasons Sunday night with a matchup at the BankAtlantic Center, where the Panthers have won 15 of 20 in the series since the start of 2003-04.