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Lightning (33-17-5, 71 Points) vs. Hurricanes (26-22-7, 59 Points)
Last 10: Tampa Bay (7-3-0); Carolina (4-5-1)
Season Series: After splitting the first two games of the season, the Hurricanes and Lightning meet tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum for the third of six overall meetings on the season. Each team has won once in its home arena, with the Lightning gaining a 5-1 victory in Tampa Bay on Dec. 20 and the Hurricanes avenging the loss at the RBC Center in Raleigh on Jan. 15.
The Big Story: Tampa Bay has alternated wins and losses in each of its last four games after stringing together a stretch of five straight victories. With a three point lead in the division over Washington, the margin between first and second place is seemingly closing. The Lightning, however, are looking to make up ground at home, where they are 12-4-0 in their last 16 games at the Times Forum, where as Carolina comes in with losses in four of the last five games.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay continues on its 12-game home stand tonight. The Lightning are 4-2-0 through the first six games, but have dropped two of the last three after opening the swing with three consecutive victories. Recently Tampa Bay has been victim to the injury bug, which has claimed the availability of forwards Ryan Malone and Nate Thompson, as well as defensemen Matt Smaby and Mike Lundin. Smaby and Malone both went out in the team’s last game Tuesday against Buffalo, a 7-4 defeat. The Lightning held a 3-1 lead in the second, but as many players admitted after the game, lost their composure in the third period beginning with Jordan Leopold’s game-tying goal. On a brighter note, Sean Bergenheim notched his first multi-goal game since March of 2009 and captain Vincent Lecavalier had two goals as well.
HURRICANES – Carolina stops in Tampa Bay for the third game of a five-game road trip. Carolina has lost four of the last five after doing just the opposite when it previous won three of four before starting its recent losing stretch. The Hurricanes are coming off a 2-1 loss to the Flyers Thursday night, in which Tuomo Ruutu brought Carolina to within one after being down by two in the third period, but a pair of late tallies by Philadelphia’s Danny Briere and Jeff Carter allowed the Eastern Conference leaders to prevail. Since February began, the team’s power play unit has produced just five goals on 21 attempts, including an 0-for-5 swing in Thursday’s loss to the Flyers. That is a big turnaround compared to when it went 14-for-61, good for 22.9 percent, which proved to be a big factor in helping the Canes climb the standings into the eighth and final playoff spot, where they currently sit coming into tonight.
Who’s Hot: Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier has three goals and four points in his last two games, while Steven Stamkos has five points in his last pair of consecutive games as well. Martin St. Louis has assists in three of the last four, totaling five in that span. Carolina’s rookie center Jeff Skinner has 2 goals and 3 points in his last three games, and continues to lead all rookies with 43 points.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Ryan Malone (mid body, out indefinitely), Mike Lundin (mid body, out indefinitely) and Nate Thompson (upper body, day-to-day). HURRICANES – Jussi Jokinen (lower body) and Joni Pitkanen (lower body).
Notable Quotable: “I've been given lots of opportunities and playing a lot here of late and the coaches are throwing me out there in lots of situations, so I have to be ready for every situation. I'm just excited to prove that I can play here.” – Dana Tyrell, who has enjoyed an increased, important role in the team’s recent success
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