Published March 13, 2014
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Tampa Bay Lightning are on their longest losing streak of the season, but the club feels it just needs a bit of luck to get back on track.
The Bolts hope to receive some good fortune on Thursday when they host the Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
The Lightning are in the midst of a five-game losing streak, the club's longest skid since it dropped six straight from April 11-21 of last season. The drought has dropped Tampa into the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, where it is just two points in front of Philadelphia and four ahead of Detroit and New Jersey.
"Earlier in the year some of the bounces were going the other way," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper told his team's official website. "Now we're getting some unbelievably unlucky breaks."
Tampa also has lost three in a row since Steven Stamkos returned from a 45- game absence due to a broken right tibia.
Stamkos, who was awarded the "C" after Tampa traded captain Martin St. Louis to the New York Rangers on March 5, has failed to register a point and is a minus-2 in three games since his return. The 24-year-old sniper had 14 goals and nine assists in 17 games before the injury.
The Lightning have gained a point in each of their last two losses and are coming off Monday's shootout loss to visiting Phoenix. Radim Vrbata scored the winner in the decisive phase to help lift the Coyotes to the 4-3 win.
Vrbata had the second chance for Phoenix and he faked to the backhand before lifting it high past Ben Bishop. Mike Smith then stretched the left pad out to the post to stop Ryan Callahan's stuff attempt for the win. Callahan, who was acquired from the Rangers as part of the St. Louis deal, has two assists in his first three games with the Bolts.
Ondrej Palat had two goals and an assist for the Lightning. Tyler Johnson also scored and Bishop made 17 saves in the loss, the third straight at the start of a six-game homestand. The setback also dropped Tampa to 17-8-5 on home ice this season.
"We just have to put it together for a full 60 minutes," said Callahan. "There's times where we use our speed and passing to bear down on opponents, and when we do that we have success. Now it's just a matter of doing it for a full game."
The Lightning have shown they can play a full 60 minutes against the Panthers this season, winning all three encounters so far. Tampa has outscored Florida by a combined 17-6 margin in 2013-14 and can sweep the season series tonight.
Tampa has won 10 of 12 overall in this series and the Panthers have lost four of the last six encounters at the Forum.
Sitting 18 points out of a playoff spot with 17 games to play has pretty much relegated the Panthers to a spoiler role down the stretch. However, the club hasn't been doing much spoiling recently, losing two straight, three of four and seven of its last nine games.
The Panthers are also coming off a home loss against Phoenix, as the Coyotes posted a 3-1 win at BB&T Center on Tuesday. Smith stopped 31 shots in Phoenix's road win.
Brandon Pirri scored and Roberto Luongo added 23 saves for the Panthers.
"I just got to find a way to make an extra save somewhere," said Luongo.
Luongo is 1-2-0 with a 2.36 goals against average and .924 save percentage in three games since coming over in trade with Vancouver. This is his second stint with the Panthers, who he previously played with from 2000-06.
Florida is 12-19-3 on the road this season and playing five of its next seven games away from Sunrise. After Thursday's tilt, the Panthers will return home for a two-game stint at BB&T Center against New Jersey and Vancouver.
The Panthers will play without forward Sean Bergenheim on Thursday after he suffered a lower-body injury in Tuesday's loss. Bergenheim has 14 goals and 10 assists in 50 games for Florida this season.