TAMPA (SportsDirect Inc.) — The Tampa Bay Lightning have battled through plenty of adversity to stay in the race for a playoff spot and likely must overcome more obstacles when they host the struggling Florida Panthers on Saturday.
The Lightning, who have been without captain Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan for most of the season, saw three centers go down with injuries in Thursday’s 4-1 win over Minnesota.
Stamkos (knee surgery) has been skating but does not have a timetable to return after missing almost four months, while third-leading scorer Tyler Johnson (44 points), Vladislav Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette – all officially day-to-day after missing Friday’s practice – suffered lower-body injuries.
“They all looked bad,” Tampa Bay associate coach Rick Bowness told reporters Friday. “Only time will tell. We’ll see where that goes.”
The Panthers have their own problems as hopes of a return trip to the playoffs are fading away after they’ve posted just one victory in their last eight games (1-6-1).
Florida, which received a goal and an assist from Aleksander Barkov on Friday but fell 7-4 to Western Conference-leading Minnesota after allowing 46 shots, is six points out of the second wild-card spot in the East and two behind the Lightning.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, FSN Florida, FSN Sun (Tampa Bay)
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (29-26-11): Florida led 4-3 after Barkov’s tally early in the third period on Friday but gave up the final four goals of the game – including a pair of late empty-netters. All-Star Vincent Trocheck notched two assists against Minnesota to push his team-leading total to 47 points – six better than Barkov – while Jonathan Marchessault reached the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his career. Future Hall-of-Famer Jaromir Jagr registered his 13th goal of the season on Friday – just his second point in the last nine contests.
ABOUT THE LIGHTNING (31-26-9): Nikita Kucherov continued his torrid pace Thursday with two goals, giving him nine in his last eight games, and matched the career highs of 30 tallies and 66 points he set last season. Andrei Vasilevskiy has been outstanding in net, posting a 4-0-1 record and .959 save percentage in five games since taking over for the traded Ben Bishop. “He’s really been holding down the fort,” defenseman Anton Stralman told reporters. The Lightning are expected to recall at least one forward but did not announce a roster move on Friday.
1. Tampa Bay D Victor Hedman has recorded six goals and nine assists over his last 11 games, giving him a career-best 57 points.
2. The Panthers are 6-1-1 in the last eight games of the Sunshine State series, including a 2-0-1 mark this season.
3. Florida is 29-of-29 on the penalty kill over its last 12 games and has scored eight power-play goals in the last eight contests.
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