Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers Pick & Prediction FEBRUARY 17th 2024

Two juggernauts square off Saturday afternoon in a Sunshine State showdown in Tampa — the Florida Panthers’ road brilliance versus the Tampa Bay Lightning’s home-ice dominance.

In the teams’ second meeting on Florida’s Gulf Coast this season, the Panthers will haul their franchise-record 10-game road winning streak up to Tampa and try to extend it against the resurgent Lightning.

On Thursday in Buffalo, Panthers backup goaltender Anthony Stolarz turned away 45 shots — the third-most in a shutout in franchise history — for his seventh career blanking and first with Florida in a 4-0 shutdown of the Sabres.

That put the Stanley Cup runners-up into first place in the Atlantic Division by way of holding the tiebreaker over the Boston Bruins — each with 74 points over 54 matches.

It also lifted Florida into rarified status: Coach Paul Maurice’s club became just the 11th in NHL history to log 10 consecutive road wins.

After topping the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 on Wednesday, Florida moved to 4-0-1 in the second game of a back-to-back set with the shutout in upstate New York.

“I think a lot of (our success) has to be with being simple and playing simple,” said top-line left winger Carter Verhaeghe, who scored twice and moved his goal total to 28.

“That’s kind of when our team is at its best. We’re not trying to force plays. The mentality is kind of to grind it out and give ourselves a chance. That’s where we’re comfortable in games.”

Beginning with a win Dec. 23, the Panthers have reached the Atlantic’s summit by going 17-3-2 over 22 games and hold a four-game winning streak.

When asked if he could name the last road loss, Florida’s Ryan Lomberg said, “I know we did this year, but I can’t remember the game.”

That defeat?

It actually was not this calendar year. The team fell 3-1 at the Calgary Flames on Dec. 18.

The Panthers are 19-7-2 on the road, with one of those victories a 3-2 win at Tampa Bay on Dec. 27.

But not many clubs are coming to downtown Tampa and toppling the Lightning these days.

They are 18-5-3 at home and have registered eight consecutive wins on their sheet of ice.

Nikita Kucherov helped lock down Thursday night’s home triumph by scoring twice, including his sixth game-winning tally, and posting an assist as he stretched his point streak to nine games.

On the team front, the Lightning beat the Colorado Avalanche 6-3 and moved to 11-3-0 in the past 14 contests.

For Kucherov, his output gave him 18 points — eight goals, 10 assists — during his nine games of finding the scoresheet.

The NHL’s top point-producer with 93, the dynamic Kucherov gave simple one- and two-word answers when asked about facing Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, second in points with 89.

Captain Steven Stamkos, who plays on the top line with Kucherov and Brayden Point, said the reticent right winger did not use playing against MacKinnon as motivation and would never make the matchup personal.

“He has so much respect for a guy like that,” said Stamkos, who notched a goal and an assist. “He lets his game do the talking.”

Added Stamkos of Saturday’s in-state tilt: “Florida’s been one of the best teams all season long, continuing their run from last year.”

–Field Level Media

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