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Shorthanded Florida Panthers Visit Lightning for Final Time

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Matthew Tkachuk is mobbed by his Florida Panthers teammates after he scored during the second period against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 6 in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning have played each other a lot over the past few seasons.

There were eight regular season and six playoff games in 2021; four and four last season and tonight, the two meet for the fourth and final time in this one.

That is not even counting the preseason games.

The Panthers are in a fight for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference and will go into it without two of their top players.

Again.

For the second consecutive game, Florida will not have centers Sasha Barkov and Sam Bennett as coach Paul Maurice said the two are not going to play.

Barkov is still hurting after getting struck on the hand by a shot against the Lightning on Feb. 6; Bennett has a lower-body injury.

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Florida is again expected to have Anton Lundell and Eetu Luostarinen filling in for Barkov and Luostarinen as they did in Friday’s 3-1 loss to the Sabres.

”We generated enough in that game after (the NHL) finally decided what the shots were, somewhere between 45 and a hundred,” Maurice said on Monday.

“We put up enough offense in that game. … When you have those two guys out of your offense, you probably will not have the puck as much in the offensive zone and you will have to battle harder in your own end. We’re just going to look different, and that’s OK. It doesn’t have to be as dynamic. We have to be considerably smarter with what we do with the puck.’’

Added Luostarinen: “It is going to be electric like always, a tight game.”

While the Lightning are snug and secure with the third spot in the Atlantic Division with a first-round rematch against the Toronto Maple Leafs in its future, do not expect Tampa Bay to give Florida any leeway.

Not only do the Lightning love putting the hammer to the Panthers whenever it can, but it is also coming off a 7-3 loss in Pittsburgh which was its fourth in the past six game.

Tampa Bay certainly would like nothing more than to get back on track by beating the Panthers.

The Penguins scored five goals on the Lightning within a five-minute span at the end of the second.

Florida’s lone win in the three games the two have played this season was a 7-1 rout following the All-Star Game in Sunrise.

”You know they are going to be foaming at the mouth to have a good game,” Aaron Ekblad said. “We know we always get their best game and it is fun competition.”

Expect Tampa’s best on Tuesday especially after landing Tanner Jeannot in a big deal with Nashville on Sunday night.

“When it started unravel in those last five, I thought maybe we were feeling sorry for ourselves a little bit,’’ Cooper said per the Tampa Bay Times. “That’s not been part of this team for a long time. That’s something we don’t do, so probably a little mental correction there for us.

“But we haven’t really been a part of that before, so hopefully it’s a one-off.”

Said Maurice: “They had a tough one here the last time and they’ll remember that; they had a tough one the last game and they’ll probably have a new player in their lineup and that usually gives you some jump. We need it bad and we will have the energy for it.”

PANTHERS ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS AT TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

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surveyjay

I just want to make sure I got this, so Barky gets hit in the hand, he leaves the game, he then comes back and plays the next 6 games, then he’s pulled for the next four games with the same injury? But it’s not broke? What a year.

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