Lightning-Hurricanes Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 03, 2012
The Tampa Bay Lightning's playoff push got a nice boost with a victory over the Eastern Conference's top team. A victory over the Lighting could give the Carolina Hurricanes a much-needed lift. Tampa Bay goes for a fourth straight victory on Saturday night when the host Hurricanes try to avoid their first set of back-to-back regulation losses in nearly two months. Since losing at Winnipeg and Pittsburgh last week by a combined 12-4 score, the Lightning (30-28-6) have gone undefeated and are tied with Buffalo with 66 points, four back of eighth-place Winnipeg in the conference. Tampa Bay rallied from two down on Friday for a 4-3 overtime win over the New York Rangers. The Lightning have won six of eight following a 1-3-1 skid. "Our players have really developed this mental toughness to fight through," coach Guy Boucher said Friday after Ryan Malone netted the game-winner. "We're getting rewarded for not quitting.'' While Tampa Bay tries to win four in a row for the first time since a season-best 5-0-0 run from Jan. 17-31, Carolina (24-27-13) enters this Southeast Division matchup needing to build momentum with a season-high five-game trip starting Tuesday. Before beginning their stretch of 10 of 12 outside Raleigh, the Hurricanes will try to cap off their six-game homestand by recording eight of 12 possible points. Their four-game point streak ended Thursday with a 3-2 loss to the Rangers. "We were there, we just fell short," said coach Kirk Muller, whose team last dropped two straight in regulation on Jan. 7 and 10. The Hurricanes, who have points in 15 of 19 games since a 5-2 victory at Tampa Bay on Jan. 12, are tied with the New York Islanders with 61 points, five back of the Lightning and Buffalo. Continued production from captain Eric Staal could help the Hurricanes close that gap on Tampa Bay. Staal has seven goals and 11 assists during a 10-game point streak. Since the team relocated from Hartford in 1997, there is only one longer point streak, Staal's 11-game run from Jan. 16-Feb. 5, 2010. Staal's current nine-game streak with an assist is the longest such stretch by a Hurricane since relocation. He has a team-high five points - all assists in Tampa Bay - as these teams have split four games in 2011-12. Staal's season-high three assists weren't enough in the last meeting on Jan. 12. Martin St. Louis' nine-game point streak versus Carolina ended that night, but the Lightning forward enters this contest with four goals and eight points in the last five games after setting up Teddy Purcell's career-high 18th on Friday. Purcell, who has five goals and 12 assists during an eight-game point streak, is tied with Steven Stamkos - the league leader with 45 goals - with a team-best three scores against Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward this season. If Ward makes a fifth start against Tampa Bay this season, it will be his 400th career game - all with Carolina. Ward is 9-3-1 with a 1.99 goals-against average in his last 13 home starts, yet he's turned aside just 57 of 64 shots as these teams have split two games in Raleigh in 2011-12. With an 11-3-2 record in his last 16 starts, Mathieu Garon should make his first start in Carolina this season. Garon surrendered three first-period goals on eight shots on Jan. 12 before being replaced by Dwayne Roloson. Tampa Bay opens its season-high seven-game homestand on March 10 versus Carolina.
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