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The Carolina Hurricanes' five-game road trip started with a lopsided loss, but was followed with a solid performance on both ends of the ice. They'll need another such effort to keep NHL scoring leader Vincent Lecavalier in check.
After ending a six-game losing streak to Tampa Bay in the last meeting, Carolina faces the Lightning on Thursday night at the St. Pete Times Forum in a matchup of Southeast Division rivals.
The first-place Hurricanes have dropped two of three this season to the Lightning, who are 9-3-2 at home against Carolina since the start of the 2002-03 season.
Lecavalier has 42 points this season after recording a career-high 108 in 2006-07 - good for third in the league. He has a seven-game point streak against Carolina, during which the top overall pick in the 1998 draft has nine goals and seven assists.
Lecavalier recorded his fifth career hat trick and tied a career high with five points in the Lightning's 6-1 home win over Carolina on Nov. 14.
The Hurricanes enter this matchup having split the first two games of their road swing. After being pounded 8-1 by Buffalo on Saturday, Carolina bounced back with a 4-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Monday.
Cory Stillman scored twice, Matt Cullen had two assists against his former team and Cam Ward stopped 28 shots for his second shutout of the season.
"It's how you respond from those situations that really matter," said Ward, who watched backup John Grahame stop only 17 shots in the loss to the Sabres. "Obviously things didn't go well in Buffalo but we did a good job of leaving that result in Buffalo.
"Once we got to New York, it was like a new mind-set. We had to because we couldn't afford to not be sharp tonight because they have too good of a team over there."
Ward, 13-6-2 with a 2.56 goals-against average this season, is 1-1-0 with a 4.01 GAA against the Lightning in 2007-08. He's alternated wins and losses in four career starts on the road versus Tampa Bay, posting a 2.74 GAA.
Stillman, a member of the Lightning's 2003-04 Stanley Cup-winning team, has a team-high 15 goals in just 25 games for the Hurricanes this season. He registered only five goals last season, when he was limited to 43 games by knee and shoulder injuries.
Stillman has points in 10 of 13 road games in 2007-08, but has been held scoreless in his last three visits to Tampa.
On Nov. 23, Stillman had two assists and Carolina (15-10-3) rallied with three third-period goals for a 4-3 home win over the Lightning, which snapped its six-game skid in the series. The victory was the Hurricanes' first over Tampa Bay since Dec. 16, 2006.
Tampa Bay (12-13-2) appeared headed for a win in regulation over Northeast Division-leading Ottawa on Tuesday, but Johan Holmqvist squandered a 3-1 lead in the final two minutes. He redeemed himself by stopping three of four attempts in the shootout to give the Lightning a 4-3 victory.
"I'm not talking any negatives," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "We won a big hockey game against a pretty good hockey team. Mistakes were made. They will be addressed."