Thursday NHL NBC Sports Network Preview: Florida versus Tampa Bay.
Florida visits Tampa Bay on the NBC Sports Network at 7 PM ET in a battle to break the tie atop the Central Division.
The Panthers moved into a tie with the Lightning (and Carolina Hurricanes) for first place in the Central with their 3-2 overtime victory at Dallas. Frank Vatrano scored a power-play goal with 1:51 left before the shootout to give his team the win. Aleksander Barkov and Radio Gudas scored in regulation. Chris Driedger made 24 saves.
Florida ended a three-game losing streak with the victory. Joel Quenneville’s team has won seven of their last ten games. The organization was aggressive at the trade deadline by making two impactful moves. Brandon Montour was acquired from Buffalo to add depth on the blue line after the season-ending leg injury to Aaron Ekblad. The team took a chance on Calgary center Sam Bennett who is a former number four pick in the NHL draft. Both players will make their debut with the Panthers tonight.
Barkov leads the team with 44 points coming from 18 goals and 26 assists. The center is complemented by Jonathan Huberdeau at left wing who has 14 goals and 29 assists. Center Carter Verhaeghe has added 17 goals and 18 assists for 35 points.
Driedger is in a time-share in goal with Sergei Bobrovsky. He has a 12-5-2 record after his win on Tuesday with a 2.04 goals-against-average and a .930 save percentage. Bobrovsky has a 15-7-2 mark with a 2.85 goals-against-average and .907 save percentage. Florida has indicated that Driedger gets the start tonight.
Tampa Bay had a two-game winning before suffering a 7-2 loss at Nashville on Tuesday. The Lightning allowed three goals in the first period before Brayden Point scored in the second period to pull within two goals. They went into the third period trailing, 4-1, with Yanni Gourde scoring their final goal. Curtis McElhinney stopped only 15 of 22 shots in the loss, although head coach Jon Cooper laid the blame on the defense.
The reigning Stanley Cup champions have lost three of five and six of their last ten games. Tampa Bay made a move at the trade deadline to fortify their defense by acquiring David Savard from Columbus. He will likely join Victor Hedman to form the team’s top blue-line pairing.
Hedman leads the team with 38 points coming from seven goals and 31 assists. Point has scored 17 goals and added 18 assists from anchoring the top line at center. Left wing Ondrej Palat has 12 goals and 23 assists.
Andrei Vasilevskiy should be back in goal tonight after getting Tuesday off. The former Vezina Trophy winner has a 25-6-1 record with a 2.00 goals-against-average and a .932 save percentage this season.
Steven Stamkos is out tonight with a lower-body injury. Tampa Bay has been without right winger Nikita Kucherov with a hip injury, although he is expected back for the playoffs.
These teams have split their four meetings this season. The Lightning won the most recent encounter by a 5-3 score at home on March 21st. BetAnySports
lists Tampa Bay as a -155 money line favorite with the total set at 5.5.
Computer prediction: Tampa Bay 3 Florida 2