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NHL Preview from The Sports Network

Friday, April 6th (All times eastern)

Florida Panthers (34-31-15) at Tampa Bay Lightning (44-32-4), 8 p.m.

(Sports Network) - The Tampa Bay Lightning have clinched a playoff spot and can possibly take over first place in the Southeast Division tonight, when they welcome the Florida Panthers to St. Pete Times Forum.

The Lightning have 92 points on the year and punched a ticket to the postseason thanks to the New York Islanders' win over Toronto on Thursday. Tampa Bay is also just one point behind Atlanta for the Southeast Division lead. Both the Lightning and the Thrashers have two games left in the regular season and Atlanta is playing in Carolina tonight.

If Florida beats Tampa in regulation and the Thrashers get a win against Carolina then Atlanta will seal up the division crown. However, if the division title is still undecided after tonight, the Thrashers and Bolts will play for the title Saturday in Atlanta in the regular-season finale for both clubs. If the teams end the season tied the Lightning will get the nod because of their superior win total.

Finishing first or second in the division will have huge ramifications in the Eastern Conference playoff race, as the team winning the Southeast will have the third seed and the second-place club will be in either the sixth or seventh slot.

The Lightning are coming off Tuesday's victory over the visiting Hurricanes. Dan Boyle scored the game-winning goal early in the third period as Tampa downed Carolina, 3-2.

Vincent Lecavalier and Eric Perrin each added a goal for the Lightning, who have won three straight. Johan Holmqvist stopped 23 shots in the triumph.

This evening's test marks the end of a three-game homestand for Tampa Bay and is the club's final regular-season tilt at home. The Lightning are 22-17-1 as the host team this year.

The Panthers were officially eliminated from playoff contention in their last game, a 1-0 loss to the Capitals on Tuesday. Olaf Kolzig stopped 27 shots for his first shutout of the season and Alexander Ovechkin scored the game's only goal to help Washington earn the home victory at the Verizon Center.

Craig Anderson made 16 saves in net for the Panthers, who have dropped two straight and will miss the playoffs for the sixth straight season.

Florida is playing the middle test of a season-ending three-game road swing tonight. The Panthers are a dismal 11-19-9 as the away club this year, but have won three of their last five games on the road.

The Panthers have taken four of the seven meetings with Tampa Bay this season and nine of the last 13 encounters overall.

04/06 11:29:58 ET

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