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Lightning (39-23-11, 89 Points) vs. Hurricanes (34-29-10, 78 Points)
Last 10: Tampa Bay (2-4-4); Carolina (5-4-1)
Season Series: Tonight’s game at the St. Pete Times Forum marks the first half of both a back-to-back set and that of a home-and-home series between the Southeast Division clubs. Carolina and Tampa Bay meet for the fourth of six meetings on the season and will face off in the penultimate matchup tomorrow night at the RBC Center in Raleigh. The Lightning have taken two of the first three meetings from the Hurricanes, with Carolina’s only win sandwiched in between a pair of Bolts victories on Dec. 20 and Feb. 12.
The Big Story: Tampa Bay’s woes continued Tuesday night with a 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders, while Carolina pulled out a much-needed victory. Tonight is the first of two important games for the Lightning, who could clinch a playoff spot for the first time since the 2006-07 campaign with a pair of wins tonight and tomorrow versus the Hurricanes. Carolina, meanwhile, is still chasing the eighth and final playoff spot, as it comes into tonight in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings with 78 points, just three behind the Buffalo Sabres.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay wraps up a two-game home stand tonight and will travel to Raleigh tomorrow to face the Hurricanes for the second time in as many days. Wins have not come as often as they once were for the Bolts, who despite a stretch of losses, have continued to pick up at least a point in four out of their last five games. Tuesday was an example of a rare exception, in which Nate Thompson opened the game’s scoring but then saw New York score four unanswered goals before Dominic Moore cut the deficit in half on the power play. The team acknowledged afterwards that it has been tough fighting through its recent stretch of adversity, but with the playoffs in reach, look to come together and break through it to hit some positive strides heading into the postseason.
HURRICANES – Beginning tonight, Carolina will be as busy traveling for the next couple of days as it will playing hockey. That the Hurricanes last played at home on Tuesday, come into Tampa Bay tonight and wrap up a home-and-home series with the Bolts tomorrow in Raleigh is just the start of what appears to be a hectic stretch to finish out the remainder of the regular season. Following tomorrow night’s game, Carolina proceeds to play once in Washington before coming back to its home arena for a one-game set against the Canadiens. The team will then play one game on Long Island and return home on Apr. 3. The Hurricanes have won two straight and three of the last four, including a 4-3 victory over Ottawa Tuesday. Carolina fell behind 2-0 early on, but a pair of goals by Chad LaRose erased the deficit and an additional tally by Cory Stillman in the third period provided all the insurance needed to hang on for the one-goal win.
Who’s Hot: Vincent Lecavalier has three goals and five points in his last five games for the Lightning and Brett Clark has recorded four assists in as many games. Nate Thompson also has scored twice and added three assists in a five-game span. Carolina’s Brandon Sutter has three points in his last four games and Eric Staal has points in two straight.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Ryan Malone (mid body, out indefinitely, placed on Injured Reserve), Steve Downie (lower body, day-to-day) and Randy Jones (lower body, out indefinitely). HURRICANES – Jamie McBain (shoulder).
Notable Quotable: “There is no time to panic. We have to get out of this. We have to regroup and bounce back and come with a good upbeat attitude at practice. We have a team fighting for their playoff lives in Carolina. At the same time, so are we.” – Lightning center Nate Thompson, on the team’s recent struggles and the importance of tonight’s game against the Hurricanes that carries with it playoff implications for both teams.
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