FLORIDA PANTHERS: 14-27-6 (34 PTS.) vs. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: 18-25-4 (40 PTS.)
Back in October, knowing that there wouldn’t be a season due to a lockout, we were impatiently waiting for the season to begin, and the nonsense to end. The longer the stalemate dragged on, the further away the games seemed to be. Finally after months of waiting, on January 19th the season started, and faster than you can snap your fingers, it ends tonight. The final game of the “shortened” season is a meaningless one between state rivals, the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Other than pride and making a final statement for a few players, this game will have very little substance.
The good news for the Panthers is that their poor season has guaranteed them to have one of the top two picks in the upcoming NHL draft in June. Meaning that either Seth Jones, Jonathan Drouin or Nathan MacKinnon will be a Florida Panther come this summer. The draft lottery takes place on Monday, and the Panthers will learn their position then, and we’ll all begin speculating on which one of those three will be chosen. In the meantime, there hasn’t been much to get excited about this season other than the performance of Jonathan Huberdeau as he continues to make his claim for Rookie of the Year. If he does win the Calder Trophy, it would be the first time in Florida Panther history that a rookie did, and he stands the best chance of any rookie the club has ever had to do so.
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Hart Trophy- Most Valuable Player
Explanation: It’s safe to say that at this point in time, Sidney Crosby isn’t walking, but running away with the Hart Trophy. With 45 points in just 26 games, Crosby is on pace to score 142 points in an 82 game season. He currently holds a 1.73 points per game average, as well as a 1.27 assists per game average. There have only been 4 players in the history of the NHL who have had a better assists per game average, and they are: Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, and Adam Oates. That’s not a bad bunch of guys to fall into a category with.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: 10-14-1 (21 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 7-13-6 (20 PTS.)
GAMEDAY SONG: It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City. (Look at the outfits!)
Tonight will be a battle for last place in the Eastern Conference as these two frustrated clubs will match up for the third of five games. The Tampa Bay Lightning have won both games played between the two cross state rivals so far this season, and looking to make it seven in a row overall against their divisional couterparts. Tampa is struggling however just as much as the Florida Panthers are as their 1-7-0 record over their past eight games indicates. Additionally Tampa is 4-13-1 since February 2nd. Hard to imagine those numbers from a team that posseses the offensive firepower they do with Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and rookie of the year candidate Cory Conacher, but then no one expected the Florida Panthers to be last in the league either.
I’m no mathematician but I’d be willing to be that the odds of scoring five goals in a National Hockey League and losing game are pretty slim. That said, I’d imagine the chances of it happening twice within five days are about the same as Wayne Gretzky showing up on my doorstep, asking me to teach him how to be awesome at hockey (Hey Great One, I have spare time if you ever need me). Yet, there were the Florida Panthers late Saturday afternoon, looking up at a scoreboard that read Tampa Bay 6 – Florida 5 in overtime.
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After having their first two day break since the season started January 19th, one would’ve figured a hungry, desperate, somewhat rested Florida Panthers squad would’ve found their way to the state’s west coast for its game Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. And then at the end of the first period, that this game was headed the same way as the past four games: a lopsided loss, this time 5-2, characterized by an anemic offense and sloppy defensive play.
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FLORIDA PANTHERS: 1-4-0 (2 PTS.) vs. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: 4-1-0 (8 PTS.)
GAME DAY SONG: The Rising. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
The interstate rivals meet tonight for the first time this season with exact opposite records. The Florida Panthers are in the midst of a four game losing streak, while the Tampa Bay Lightning are on a three game winning streak and coming off a 5-1 spanking of the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday evening. In that game the high scoring Lightning saw veteran Martin St. Louis contribute four assists, while Steven Stamkos added a goal and an assist to give him 10 points on the year so far. The Lightning who have an abundance of scoring are tied for the league lead in goals for (24) with the St. Louis Blues, and are averaging 4.8 per game.
Stamkos however is not the team leader in points, as Martin St. Louis sits at the top with 11 (3G- 8A). Forwards Teddy Purcell, who had a goal and two assists against the Flyers, and rookie Cory Conacher add some additional scoring depth as well, presenting more than just top top guns to be careful of, and we haven’t even mentioned the ever dangerous Vincent Lecavalier. The Panthers who haven’t been very sharp of late, and have made numerous defensive mistakes, had better be on their game tonight, or it will be over quickly. This Tampa team can score in bunches and they can spread it around as well, making them one of the more offensively dangerous teams in the league, and they know it:
“When you get a little confidence going, as our offensive players have right now, you try to run with it,” Stamkos said. “We know, once we get on a roll, we’re a tough team to beat.”