The Tampa Bay Lightning seemingly couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to reach 100 points for the second time in franchise history and continue their momentum heading into the postseason.
Beating the lowly Florida Panthers, however, hasn’t been easy for them this season.
In their regular-season home finale Friday night, the Lightning will try to end their struggles against the Panthers and hand the Eastern Conference’s last-place team a 10th consecutive defeat.
Tampa Bay (44-25-11) needs one point in its final two games to achieve the 100-point plateau - something the club has done only once, en route to the 2004 Stanley Cup.
The first chance at the feat ended in a 4-2 loss at Buffalo on Tuesday, when the Sabres pulled ahead with two goals in the second period and snapped the Lightning’s five-game winning streak.
“We want to get momentum going into the playoffs, playing the right way,” forward Martin St. Louis(notes) said. “We’ve done that so far in the last four or five games. (Tuesday’s) second period got away a little and it cost us.”
While the Lightning still have a slim chance at the East’s No. 4 seed and home-ice advantage in the first round, they’ll likely open the postseason at Pittsburgh or Philadelphia.
They may be glad Florida (29-39-12) is missing its 10th consecutive postseason. Tampa Bay’s lone win in five meetings with the Panthers in 2010-11 was a 2-1 shootout victory on the road Jan. 21. The Lightning have lost twice in shootouts at home to their intrastate rivals.
“We’ve had a successful road against them,” defenseman Jason Garrison(notes) said after his overtime goal gave the Panthers a 4-3 win over Tampa on March 12. “Obviously, we see them a lot throughout the year and it’s good for the fans.”
Florida’s fans, however, haven’t had much to cheer about lately. The Panthers have been outscored 28-13 while going 0-6-3 in their last nine, their longest skid since losing 12 straight from Oct. 27-Nov. 23, 2005.
The slump has the team in danger of finishing at the bottom of the conference for the first time in franchise history.
“You can look for silver linings,” coach Peter DeBoer said after Wednesday’s 5-2 loss at Washington. “You know what? We’re losing games, that’s the bottom line. So I don’t have a lot of good to say.”
It’s unclear if Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun(notes) - a possible free agent this summer - will return from a back injury before the end of the season. He has missed the last four games, as Scott Clemmensen(notes) has gone 0-3-1 with a 3.21 goals-against average.
St. Louis will be on the ice trying to extend his point streak to eight games. He has four goals and six assists in his last seven, moving within five points of reaching 100 for the second time.
Steven Stamkos(notes) hasn’t been as hot, with no points in his last three games and just three in his last 10 contests. Vincent Lecavalier(notes) has helped compensate, with 27 points in 28 games since the All-Star break.