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‘Central’ Florida: Battle for division heats up as Panthers visit Tampa Bay

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Florida Panthers goalie Chris Driedger gets ready to take the ice at BB&T Center earlier this season. He is expected to be back in net for the Panthers Thursday at Tampa Bay. // Photo courtesy @FlaPanthers

The intrastate battle between the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning will be in the national spotlight Thursday as the fifth game between the two will be broadcast by NBCSN.

Nice timing for the Panthers to make their national television debut this season, eh?

By virtue of the Panthers winning in Dallas and the Lightning losing in Nashville on Tuesday, the two teams come into the game in a three-way tie with Carolina for first place in the NHL’s Central Division.

It does look like the race for first — with the winner avoiding one of the division’s so-called ‘Big Three’ — may come down to the final games.

”We lost three games and we really did not lose that much positioning,’’ Joel Quenneville said. “There is still hope to move ahead and recapture the top spot. We play one another four times, we play Carolina. It’s going to sort out.”

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