Tampa Bay Lightning (47-24-8) at Florida Panthers (36-27-15), 7 p.m. (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) – The Tampa Bay Lightning already have locked up a playoff spot and are in the race for the Atlantic Division title, but the club enters Saturday on a serious cold streak.
The Lightning have lost four of their last five games and the NHL’s highest- scoring team has been held to one goal or less three times during that stretch.
Tampa’s one victory over the span was against the Montreal Canadiens, who lead the division race by two points with three games remaining for both teams. The Bolts swept the five-game season series with a 5-3 win in Quebec on Monday, but only have a total of four goals in the four losses during their current 1-3-1 drought.
Florida, meanwhile, has little chance of making the playoffs despite winning two of three and five of its last eight tilts. The Panthers trail Boston by six points for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with only four games remaining for both clubs. Boston also is tied with Detroit for the third and final playoff bid from the Atlantic Division.
The Panthers could be officially eliminated from the postseason race as early as Saturday. A regulation loss against Tampa would knock them out, as would wins by both Boston and Detroit. The Bruins host Toronto on Saturday, while the Red Wings visit Minnesota.
Florida began a season-ending five-game homestand on Thursday when it routed the Carolina Hurricanes, 6-1. Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo reached impressive milestones for Florida en route to the lopsided victory.
Jagr had a goal and one assist to raise his career point total to 1,798, tying Ron Francis for fourth place, while Luongo made 31 saves to become only the 11th goalie in league history to earn 400 career wins.
Despite the personal achievements, the Panthers are likely to miss the playoffs for the 13th time in 14 seasons.
“I would have liked to get it maybe a few games earlier and maybe get a few more points in the standings,” Luongo said of getting win No. 400 in bittersweet fashion.
Vincent Trocheck scored twice 38 seconds apart in the third period for Florida, which won its third straight home game and improved to 19-11-7 at BB&T Center this season.
Tampa Bay lost for a second straight game on Thursday, but was able to snag a point from the 2-1 loss in Ottawa. The contest appeared to be headed for a shootout before Patrick Wiercioch scored with 16.9 seconds left in overtime for the Senators. Wiercioch’s slap shot from the top of the right circle got past Ben Bishop, helping Ottawa stay alive in the playoff race against Boston.
Jonathan Drouin scored the lone goal for the Lightning, tying the game at 1-1 late in the first period. Bishop stopped 32-of-34 shots in the loss.
“I thought (Andrew Hammond) played well,” Bishop said of Ottawa’s goaltender. “We couldn’t get that one tonight. I thought he played well, (but) I don’t think we tested him too much.”
The Lightning played the game without four of their top six defensemen; Victor Hedman, Braydon Coburn, Jason Garrison and Andrej Sustr are injured. Forward Tyler Johnson also sat out with an upper-body injury. All five players are expected to miss tonight’s game.
Bishop is expected to start Saturday and is 5-1-0 with a 2.27 goals against average in six career games versus Florida. Luongo is 13-13-1 with a 2.52 GAA over 30 lifetime starts against the Bolts.
Tampa is 1-2-1 during a five-game swing that ends tonight. The club is just 17-16-7 on the road compared to a stellar 30-8-1 mark at home.
The Lightning have claimed six of the past seven meetings against Florida, but the Panthers did snap a six-game home slide in the series with a 4-3 regulation win on March 1.