The Tampa Bay Lightning could very well be chasing the Florida Panthers for a playoff spot for the rest of the season, but tonight will be the final time that they get to help their own cause in this series.
The two Southeast Division residents wrap their season series with a meeting in Tampa, where the Lightning look to rebound after having their longest winning streak of the season snapped.
Tampa Bay had won five straight games before suffering a 2-1 overtime defeat to Winnipeg on Thursday. With 49 points, the Lightning are nine back of a playoff spot and 10 behind the first-place Panthers.
Tampa was helping its own cause prior to Thursday's defeat, with Victor Headman scoring his team's lone goal. The defenseman potted his first since Oct. 22 and had just returned to action on Tuesday following a 13-game absence because of a concussion.
The Lightning dipped to 2-0-1 on a five-game homestand and will wrap this residency on Tuesday versus the Kings before road games at the Rangers, Sabres and Penguins.
"It's obviously very disappointing not getting two points," said Hedman. "We have to bear down because we have some big games coming up over the next couple of weeks."
Tonight is the sixth and final regular-season test between these two clubs and the Lightning have won three in a row since suffering a 7-4 loss at the hands of the Panthers at home back on Oct. 17. Tampa notched a 5-1 win at home when the clubs last met on Nov. 26, sweeping a home-and-home set thanks to two goals and an assist by Steven Stamkos and 24 saves from Garon.
Florida will look to split the six-game series and possibly pad its lead again in the division. The Panthers recorded a 2-1 win over the Jets last night, pushing their edge over the second-place Capitals to three points. Winnipeg is five off the pace as well.
Kris Versteeg missed Florida's previous game because of the flu, but returned to deposit his team-leading 20th goal of the campaign. Sean Bergenheim also scored and Scott Clemmensen made 20 saves for the Panthers, who are 3-0-1 in their past four after winning consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 16-18.
It marked the eighth one-goal game for Florida in its past 12 and it has had 28 contests this season decided by the minimum. The Panthers are 13-4-11 in that situation.
"We've had so many one-goal games over the last month to two months," Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen said. "So I like that our guys are building up some character and it will pay off for us down the line."
Florida hits the road for two straight and four of five, but is just 1-4-4 in its last nine as the guest.