Panthers host Lightning with home ice on the line

NHL Hockey

The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning have some final business to take care of before the two teams open the playoffs against one another.

On Monday night in Sunrise, Fla., the Panthers will host the Lightning in the teams’ regular-season finale.

Florida (36-14-5, 77 points) enters the game with a two-point lead on the Lightning (36-16-3, 75) for second place in the Central Division.

To get home-ice advantage in the first round, the Panthers need to get a point on Monday. The Lightning need a win in regulation.

“I think both teams know we’re going to be facing one another,” Florida coach Joel Quenneville said. “I still think there’s something at stake, so you’ve got to be smart about how you’re playing.”

On Saturday night, Florida beat the Lightning 5-1 in a game in which tempers flared. The teams combined for 31 penalties and 154 penalty minutes.

Tampa Bay defenseman Luke Schenn said the Panthers aren’t going to be a pushover either in the final game or in the upcoming playoff series.

The Lightning, which has had its way with the Panthers the past couple of seasons, realize this.

“They have had a great year, and they are pushing hard and want to protect home ice,” Schenn said. “We know what kind of series this is going to be now. It was a hard-fought battle, and it didn’t go our way. It’s going to be a hard-fought series, and we have one more regular-season game we’re both going to be fighting for.”

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said he expects the same kind of physical play from both teams once the playoffs start, although he does not expect the kind of fights that broke out throughout Saturday night’s game.

“These are games 55 and 56, not Games 1 and 2 of the playoffs,” Cooper said. “I’m sure guys would be a little more careful than they would in situations like this. The physicality may stay the same, but maybe the recklessness won’t be there as much.”

The Panthers will try for their fifth win against the Lightning this season.

The Panthers have won their past two games against Tampa Bay and enter the season finale riding a five-game winning streak.

Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky made 28 saves in Saturday’s victory, but Quenneville has said Chris Driedger will start on Monday.

Driedger has been out the past few games with a lower body injury, but he has been practicing and backed up Bobrovsky on Saturday after only appearing in two of Florida’s past 11 games.

In two games against the Lightning this season, Driedger is 1-0-1 with a 3.48 GAA and .860 save percentage.

Tampa Bay has not said whether Andrei Vasilevskiy will return to net Monday or if Curtis McElhinney will start after losing to Dallas on Friday night.

McElhinney has made two starts against the Panthers this season, going 1-1 with a 4.58 GAA and .830 save percentage.

Tampa Bay held out defensemen Victor Hedman (lower-body injury), Ryan McDonagh (upper body) and Jan Rutta (lower body) on Saturday after all three played the previous night.

Florida is expected to have Patric Hornqvist and Carter Verhaeghe back in the lineup for the first time in weeks.

–Field Level Media

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