Lightning (39-24-11, 89 Points) vs. Hurricanes (35-29-10, 80 Points)
Last 10: 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 last night with a 4-3 loss to the Hurricanes, while Carolina pulled out a much-needed victory and inched closer to the eighth and final playoff spot. Tampa Bay is still clinging to the fifth position and expects to be in the playoffs, while Carolina has won three straight and is hot coming into tonight, as it sits just three points behind Buffalo. The Lightning are just 2-6-4 this month, but with 89 points, it would be unlikely they would be caught.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay wraps up a back-to-back home-and-home series tonight after falling 4-3 last night to Carolina. Simon Gagne scored two power-play goals and got the Bolts on the boar first, but four unanswered goals by the Hurricanes put the visitors out to a big lead. Vincent Lecavalier and Gagne’s second of the night in the third period close the gap to one, but it would be as close as the Bolts could get after Cam Ward made 18 saves. 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 – Carolina will play at home in Raleigh tonight for what is just the start of what appears to be a hectic stretch to finish out the remainder of the regular season. After tonight’s contest, 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 three straight and four of the last five, including a 4-3 victory last night against Tampa Bay. Carolina fell behind 1-0 early on, but two goals by Erik Cole and additional tallies by Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal helped turn things around. Carolina nearly surrendered the three-goal lead late in the third when the Lightning scored twice to bring the game to within one, but earned the victory behind some key stops from net minder Cam Ward.
Who’s Hot: Vincent Lecavalier has four goals and seven points in his last six games for the Lightning and Brett Clark has recorded five 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 five games and Eric Staal has points in three straight.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Ryan Malone (mid body, out indefinitely, placed on Injured Reserve) 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