Lightning (15-18-2, 32 Points) at Hurricanes (16-17-2, 34 Points)
TV/Radio: Sun Sports HD; AM 970 WFLA
Thursday’s matchup is the fourth of five total meetings this season between the clubs, and the third to be played in Raleigh. Tampa Bay has won each of the first three matches, gaining victories on January 22, February 23 and March 16, scoring at least four goals in each. Lightning goaltender Mathieu Garon has been in net for all three wins, stopping 88 of 92 shots. The clubs will wrap up the season set in Tampa Bay on April 21.
The Big Story:
Tampa Bay has gained points in three straight games to come within two points of the Hurricanes in the Southeast Division standings, but remain seven points out of the eighth and final playoff spot behind the New York Islanders. Carolina, meanwhile, has lost nine of its past 10 games and has fallen out of the top eight. Thursday’s matchup, therefore, is crucial as both teams continue to fight for their playoff lives.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay opens up a three-game road trip Thursday in Carolina that also sees the team make stops on Long Island and Washington on back-to-back nights before coming home. For the second straight game on Tuesday night, the Bolts fought back from a two-goal deficit to send a contest against the in-state rival Panthers to overtime. Unlike the previous game, however, on Friday night, the Lightning couldn’t solve the opposing team’s netminder in the shootout, eventually falling 3-2 to Florida after picking up a consolation point. Tom Pyatt and Alex Killorn each scored in a span of 4:54 in the final frame to erase a two-goal deficit and tie the game, but Florida goaltender Jacob Markstrom showed signs of brilliance at times, making 39 saves in regulation and stopping an additional three Lightning attempts in the shootout to deny the Bolts the additional standings point in the tiebreaker.
HURRICANES – Carolina competes in the middle game of a three-game homestand against the Lightning, looking to turn around a two-game losing streak. The Hurricanes not long ago held the top spot in the Southeast Division, but have fallen fast after claiming just one victory in their past 10 games. The downward trend continued on Tuesday, when Carolina fell to a surging Washington Capitals team 5-3 on home ice. After building a 2-1 lead through 20 minutes around a pair of goals by Jiri Tlusty, Carolina surrendered four goals in the second period alone to fall behind by a multi-goal deficit. Tlusty completed the hat trick in the final frame, but that perhaps was overshadowed by Dan Ellis allowing three goals on seven shots to be pulled in favor of Justin Peters, and of course by a season-ending injury to defenseman Joni Pitkanen, which just exacerbated the loss.
Bolts rookie forward Alex Killorn has recorded two goals and three points in his past two games, while Matt Carle has picked up two assists in his past two contests. Carolina’s Alex Semin has two goals and six points in the past four games for the Hurricanes.
LIGHTNING – Vincent Lecavalier (Lower Body, Placed On Injured Reserve), Ryan Malone (Upper Body, Placed On Injured Reserve), Pierre-Cedric Labrie (Upper Body, Placed On Injured Reserve) and Anders Lindback (Lower Body, Placed On Injured Reserve). HURRICANES – Joni Pitkanen (Broken Heel, Out For Season), Tuomo Ruutu (Groin), Justin Faulk (Knee) and Cam Ward (Knee).
Twitter Stat Pack:
The Lightning have picked up points in three straight games, going 2-0-1 during that stretch that includes back-to-back games which were decided in a shootout. The Lightning are a perfect 3-0-0 against Carolina this season, out-scoring them 13-4. The Lightning trail the Hurricanes by just two points in the Southeast Division standings. Steven Stamkos has tallied at least a point in 26 of the Lightning's 35 games this season. Mathieu Garon has earned a point in each of his past three starts, going 2-0-1 during that stretch.
“We’ve just got to move on to the next one. We had a point there for the taking and that stings a little bit, but we’ve taken five of six points in the three games since I’ve been here, so if we can do that every three games, then I like our chances.” – Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, about falling to the Panthers in the shootout and looking ahead to continuing the playoff push
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