If the Tampa Bay Lightning continue to score goals like they have been lately, they'll be just fine without Ryan Craig.
The Lightning look for their third straight win Thursday when they host the Carolina Hurricanes in the first of a home-and-home series pitting the last two Stanley Cup champions.
Craig, who had five goals in the team's first seven games, sprained his right knee last Thursday against Philadelphia and will miss four weeks.
The Lightning, though, went on to beat the Flyers 4-1, and then downed Washington 6-4 on Saturday. In the first six games of the season, Tampa Bay (4-4-0) had scored only 12 goals.
"We've worked so hard, the guys have been squeezing the sticks so much, that eventually goals were going to come out," Lightning goaltender Marc Denis said.
Nikita Alexeev scored two goals against the Capitals and has points in a career-high five straight games, and four other players scored for Tampa Bay against Washington as the team tries to replace Craig's production.
"(Craig) had a great start and we're going to miss him," said center Brad Richards, who scored his first goal of the season Saturday. "But we also know that during that start, we weren't firing on all cylinders. We have other players to step up. Other players did step up tonight and we've got to fill that role."
Tampa Bay lost four of its first six games, a stretch that culminated with a 5-1 loss Oct. 16 to Carolina at home.
While the Hurricanes (4-4-2) have won three of the last four meetings between the teams, both Tampa Bay and Carolina play each other nearly even. The Lightning have won five of the nine matchups since the start of last season, with Tampa Bay outscoring Carolina by only two goals, 33-31.
After the teams play again on Saturday in Raleigh, N.C., they won't meet again until Dec. 16.
Carolina beat Atlanta 5-4 in overtime on Wednesday, its first home game following a seven-game road trip. The Hurricanes went 3-4 on the road trip, with two losses at the start and end of the trip.
"Wins are important right now and obviously when they are in your conference, or even better so in your division, it's a bonus," Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette said. "It was an important third period for us and an important overtime to come out and play better than we did in the second period and our guys responded."
Anton Babchuk scored the winner for the Hurricanes, while right wing Scott Walker reached 300 career points with a goal and an assist.
"If he (Atlanta goalie Kari Lehtonen) had stayed in the net I probably wouldn't have shot it," Babchuk said. "But he stepped in front of me and I didn't have a big angle to shoot it and so I tried a different move. You always play 'D' first but if you have open ice, you can jump in and help. I just had an opportunity to make a play."
Babchuk's goal was assisted by Justin Williams, who had a hat trick in Carolina's victory earlier this month over Tampa Bay.
|Apr 03 '07||CAR 2 at TBL 3||D. Boyle|
|Mar 30 '07||TBL 4 at CAR 2||F. Kuba|
|Feb 01 '07||TBL 4 at CAR 0||R. Craig|
|Jan 20 '07||TBL 6 at CAR 5 - SO||V. Prospal|
|Dec 16 '06||CAR 3 at TBL 2||R. Whitney|
|Oct 28 '06||TBL 4 at CAR 6||S. Walker|
|Oct 26 '06||CAR 1 at TBL 5||M. St. Louis|
|Oct 16 '06||CAR 5 at TBL 1||J. Williams|