Panthers-Lightning Preview

The Associated Press

The All-Star break has rejuvenated the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers.

A meeting with the Tampa Bay Lightning may hamper that momentum.

The Panthers attempt to match their longest winning streak of the season by ending a three-game slide against the Lightning on Saturday night when these division rivals conclude their season series.

Florida (24-15-11) entered the All-Star break sputtering on a 1-2-3 stretch. The Panthers returned from the week layoff to beat Washington 4-2 on Wednesday and posted a 2-1 victory over Winnipeg two days later.

They're in position for their third three-game winning streak of the season, last reaching the season-high stretch from Dec. 3-8.

"If you look at our record in the last two months (9-8-7), so many tight games, close games, I like the idea that we're building up some resiliency and some character," coach Kevin Dineen said. "I think that will pay up for us down the line. We'd like to have a game where we have a little breathing room, but we're getting used to these kinds of games and it's the nature of the league right now."

Kris Versteeg is looking to build on his goal from Friday after flu-like symptoms sidelined him two days prior.

"It's been a rough little go over the last few days," the left wing said. "Hopefully over the next little while I start to feel better, but a win always makes you feel pretty good."

Versteeg leads the Panthers with 20 goals and 43 points, needing just one goal to match his total from last season with Toronto and Philadelphia. He's two goals shy of his career high set with Chicago in 2008-09.

Versteeg has three goals and three assists versus Tampa Bay this season, all of which came in the first three games between the teams.

Mikael Samuelsson assisted on Versteeg's goal to give him a three-game point streak during which he has three goals and one assist. The veteran right wing has four points in his last four visits to Tampa Bay, but hasn't played there since a loss with Vancouver.

The Panthers are 2-1-2 against the Lightning this season. However, they've dropped three in a row after falling 5-1 at Tampa Bay on Nov. 26 to get swept in a home-and-home set.

The Lightning will try to continue that success and rebound from Thursday's 2-1 overtime defeat to the Jets, ending their season-high five-game winning streak. They're 2-0-1 on this five-game homestand, which ends Tuesday against Los Angeles.

Coach Guy Boucher came away encouraged with Thursday's performance despite the loss.

"No, it's not disappointing. I found it encouraging that we played so well," Boucher told the team's official website. "We have two more opportunities at home and we don't want to change our focus. I tell our guys that everything is in front of us. There's nothing left behind. Everything is front of us, and the more you think about yesterday, the less prepared you are for today."

Martin St. Louis is looking for his longest scoring streak since going 11 games with a point bridging this season and last. The right wing has three goals and 10 assists during this season high-tying eight-game run.

He had a goal against Florida on Nov. 26, giving him 10 points in the last nine meetings.

Steven Stamkos, the NHL leader with 33 goals, has also made a habit of scoring against the Panthers. The center has 12 goals and 10 assists in 22 games, netting five goals while setting up two others in the last four matchups.

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