The last two teams to hoist the Stanley Cup might not get the chance to do it again this June.
With just over a week left in the regular season, six teams in the Eastern Conference are separated by only three points for the final three playoff spots. The Lightning (41-32-4) are in seventh place with 86 points and the Hurricanes (38-31-8) are 11th with 84.
These teams could have created more separation in the standings, but both have been blown out in their last two games. Carolina has been outscored 11-2 over that span, while Tampa Bay has been outscored 12-4.
"It doesn't mean we're out of the playoffs by any means," Carolina forward Craig Adams said after Wednesday's 5-1 loss to lowly Philadelphia. "Our fate is going to be in our hands. To lose two in a row is certainly going to make it a lot tougher."
The Hurricanes are trying to avoid becoming the first team since the 1994-95 New Jersey Devils to miss the playoffs the year after winning the Stanley Cup.
They had won three straight before their recent slide, and have not lost three in a row since a four-game skid Jan. 27-Feb. 3.
"We need to put a good streak together," coach Peter Laviolette said. "We're in a fight to get back into the playoffs, so we need wins and we need to come on the road and take away points. We took away nothing."
Cam Ward was pulled on Wednesday after allowing five goals on 19 shots in 31 minutes for his first loss since Feb. 28. Ward, who recently missed three games because of a cut on his leg, was 4-0-0 with a 1.84 goals-against average in his previous five games.
He is 3-1-1 with a 3.37 GAA against Tampa Bay this season, but did not play in their most recent meeting, a 4-0 home loss on Feb. 1. Ray Whitney has three goals and four assists in six games against the Lightning this season, and scored his team-leading 30th goal on Wednesday.
Tampa Bay, still battling with Atlanta for the Southeast Division title, lost 5-2 to Florida on Tuesday.
"This hurts. This game really hurts right now," Lightning captain Tim Taylor said. "All is not lost. We have to remain positive. You never want a team thinking negative thoughts."
Tampa Bay, which won the Stanley Cup in 2004, is trying to earn its fourth straight playoff appearance, but has lost seven of its last 11.
"We're taking the long route here, that's for sure, about getting in," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "We are going to get in. We're just going around the block. We're going to get there. It's a guarantee."
Martin St. Louis is two points away from joining Vincent Lecavalier as the only two players in Tampa Bay history to reach 100 points in a season. St. Louis has scored in each of his last five games against the Hurricanes, registering seven goals and three assists in those contests.
Lecavalier, who has four goals and two assists in his last five games against Carolina, recorded his 100th point on Saturday.
Marc Denis allowed three goals on 14 shots Tuesday before being pulled during the second intermission for Johan Holmqvist, who stopped all seven shots he faced. They have been splitting time this season, but Holmqvist could get the start in this game because of his better numbers against Carolina.
He's 1-1-0 with a 1.58 GAA in three games against the Hurricanes this season, while Denis is 2-2-0 with a 4.09 GAA in five appearances against them.
These teams conclude their season series on Tuesday in Tampa.
|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|