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SUNRISE (SportsDirect Inc.) — The surging Tampa Bay Lightning attempt to make history and climb closer to the top of the Atlantic Division when they visit the first-place Florida Panthers on Saturday.
Tampa Bay, coming off a 2-1 victory over Chicago on Thursday, can match the franchise-record win streak of eight that was set by the Stanley Cup champion 2003-04 team.
“That’s probably one of our best games of the year,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman told reporters of Thursday’s win. “I thought for 60 minutes, we played a hell of a hockey game. This is the standard we want to set going forward.”
Right wing Nikita Kucherov continues to produce for Tampa Bay with eight goals in his last 11 games, tying captain Steven Stamkos for the team lead with 20.
The Panthers regained some confidence Friday with a 4-0 victory over Chicago after going winless in their previous four contests (0-3-1), pushing their lead to three points in the division over the Lightning and Detroit.
Defenseman Aaron Ekblad returned Friday from a four-game absence because of a concussion and scored the final goal for Florida.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, FSN Sun (Tampa Bay), FSN Florida
ABOUT THE LIGHTNING (26-17-4): The Lightning’s top checking unit of J.T. Brown, Valtteri Filppula and Ryan Callahan has been doing the job shutting down opposing team’s most dangerous lines of late. “It’s something we have to respond to,” Callahan told the Tampa Bay Times. “We know if we do our job, we have a great chance at winning that hockey game.” Hedman has led the way for a more productive defense of late with nine points in his last seven games while fellow blueliner Anton Stralman boasts two goals in four contests.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (27-15-5): Jonathan Huberdeau recorded an assist Friday to tie for the team lead in points (32) with veteran Jaromir Jagr, who has been blanked in four consecutive contests. Defenseman Willie Mitchell was placed on injured reserve Friday to give him time to recover from various nagging injuries and fellow blue liner Dylan Olsen was recalled for depth. Roberto Luongo (20-13-4, .929 save percentage) notched his 72nd career shutout against Chicago and that might give Al Montoya (7-2-1, .929) the start Saturday in the second of a back-to-back.
1. The Panthers are 0-of-25 on the power play over the last nine games after coming up empty on three Friday.
2. Tampa Bay G Ben Bishop is 7-1-1 with a 2.04 goals-against average in nine career games against the Panthers.
3. Florida won the last meeting against the Lightning at home 1-0 on Nov. 16, but was outshot 39-20.
PREDICTION: Lightning 5, Panthers 3
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