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Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers - 10/9/14

Florida Panthers (29-45-8) at Tampa Bay Lightning (46-27-9)

NHL Hockey: Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 7:30 pm (Tampa Bay Times Forum)

The Line: Tampa Bay Lightning / Florida Panthers --- Over/Under: See the Latest Odds

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The Battle of Florida takes centre stage on a busy Thursday night of NHL action as the Bolts look to live up to their billing as Stanley Cup contenders and the Cats look to establish any expectations at all.

The Florida Panthers were once a team to look out for as they were competitive in the lackluster former Southeast division but they are far from that at the moment and it might take some time before they get back into a playoff position. The Panthers do have some young talent and will likely return to relevance sooner rather than later if they can continue to stockpile some top end draft picks and they also brought back Roberto Luongo to be the team’s number one goalie which should provide stability at a position that has been lacking for so long in Sunrise. Florida will ride the coat tails of Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleks Barkof offensively but they also have Nick Bjugstad, Tomas Kopecky, and Jussi Jokinen to turn to and the foursome of Erik Gudbranson, Brian Campbell, Dmitri Kulikov, and rookie Aaron Ekblad anchoring the blue line which should allow the Cats to be a lot more competitive than they were a season ago.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers - 10/9/14

USA TODAY Sports

The Lightning meanwhile have skyrocketed into a preseason favourite to contend in the Eastern Conference and with a healthy Steven Stamkos why shouldn’t they be? Tampa boasted two of the games best rookie a season ago in the form of Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov and also have one of the brightest coming into this season in Jonathan Drouin who should get his first crack at the full roster after a couple of season backs in junior. The Bolts also have Brett Connolly, Ryan Callahan, Brendan Morrow, and Alex Killorn up front and possess a strong back end with Victor Hedman, Jason Garrison, and Anton STralman. The key for Tampa Bay will be which Ben Bishop shows up this season and if they can get the one who led the league in goals against average a couple of seasons ago than this Tampa team has the potential to win the East and challenge for the Stanley Cup. If goaltending becomes an issue than plans could change and we could see another early round exit. For now though, I’m drinking the Kool-Aid and I think the Lightning have one of the deepest rosters in the conference.

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Tampa Bay Lightning -1.5

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