The Eastern Conference's bottom-two teams will battle each other on Tuesday night, as the Tampa Bay Lightning welcome the Florida Panthers for a Southeast Division clash.
The Panthers are last in the East with 28 points and Tampa Bay is just three points ahead in 14th place. Despite their poor standing, however, neither team is necessarily out of the playoff race. The Lightning have the stronger prospects, of course, but are still six points out of a postseason spot.
Tampa Bay will aim for its eighth straight victory in this series, as Florida hasn't picked up a win against the Lightning since a 7-4 road win on Oct. 17, 2011. The Panthers have lost three straight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum since that victory.
The Lightning won their second straight game on Friday, giving Jon Cooper a victory over the visiting New Jersey Devils in his NHL head-coaching debut. After firing Guy Boucher last Sunday, Tampa Bay went 1-1-0 while being led by assistant coaches before Cooper officially took over the reins on Friday.
Teddy Purcell and Victor Hedman scored in the shootout, while Mathieu Garon stopped both New Jersey attempts, as Tampa Bay scored a comeback 5-4 victory over the Devils.
Tampa Bay trailed 4-2 in the third period before rallying to tie the game. Steven Stamkos recorded his NHL-leading 25th goal of the year to make it a 4-3 game with 12:49 remaining and Alex Killorn scored with just 16 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime.
Stamkos scored twice and assisted on Killorn's game-tying tally. Nate Thompson also scored and Garon made 21 saves for the win.
"It's just a wave of emotions," Cooper said on earning his first win. "It's all like it happened in slow motion."
It was Tampa's fourth straight win on home ice, improving the Bolts' record at the Forum this season to 10-7-1.
The Panthers enter Tuesday on a two-game winning streak and are coming off Saturday's overtime win against a visiting New Jersey team. Dmitry Kulikov scored the winner 1:43 into the extra session as Florida rallied for the 3-2 win. New Jersey led 2-1 heading into the final minutes of regulation, but Shawn Matthias tallied with 27 seconds left to send the game to OT.
In the extra session, Kulikov had the puck poke-checked away from him by Martin Brodeur on a short break, but the puck came over to the left circle. From there, Brian Campbell fired it over to the right and Kulikov sent the disc into the far side for the win.
"That win shows a lot of character for this team," said Kulikov. "We played from start to finish here and didn't give up when we fell behind in the third period. This was a nice win for us."
Matthias scored twice, while Jacob Markstrom stopped 24 shots for the Panthers, who won consecutive home games for the first time this season. Florida has lost three straight on the road and is just 5-11-1 away from Sunrise this season.