As long as the Carolina Hurricanes keep winning, they won't need to worry about who is chasing them for the Southeast Division title.
The Hurricanes look for a second straight victory while trying to increase their lead atop the division standings when they visit the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.
Carolina (42-30-6) bounced back from its first loss in more than a week with a 7-1 home win over Atlanta on Friday night. The win gave the Hurricanes 90 points and increased their lead in the Southeast to four points over second-place Washington with four games remaining for each team.
"We could feel the energy in (the dressing) room, before the game even started, that we were going to be ready to play and fired up," Carolina's Eric Staal said.
The Capitals, who were idle Friday, beat the Hurricanes 3-2 in a shootout Tuesday and play at Florida on Saturday. The two clubs meet for the final time Tuesday in Washington.
The Hurricanes, who missed the playoffs with 88 points last season after winning the Stanley Cup in 2005-06, would be the third seed in the Eastern Conference if they win the division and won't face a team currently in a playoff position the rest of the way.
On Friday, Tuomo Ruutu and Jeff Hamilton each scored two of Carolina's five power-play goals, while Staal added a goal and two assists for the Hurricanes, who are 7-for-14 with the man advantage in their last two contests.
"All the time we were talking about shooting the puck," Ruutu said. "We did (Friday), and that's why we got those goals. If you don't shoot, you're not going to get goals."
Cam Ward made 25 saves in his 16th straight start to improve to 12-2-2 during that span. Ward is 3-2-0 with a 2.42 goals-against averages versus Tampa Bay this season.
Hamilton has three goals in his last two contests, while Staal has nine points in his last five games. Staal has three goals and three assists against the Lightning this season, including a goal and two assists in Carolina's 5-1 home win over Tampa Bay on March 1 in the teams' most recent meeting.
While each team has won three games in the season series, the Hurricanes have outscored the Lightning 9-2 in winning the last two matchups.
The Lightning are coming off a 4-3 overtime loss to Washington on Thursday night. Tampa Bay couldn't hold a one-goal lead in the third period and has been outscored 109-72 in the final period this season.
"I'm not going to talk about the third period," said Lightning coach John Tortorella, whose team has lost four of five and 14 of its last 19 contests.
Michel Ouellet had a goal and an assist for the second straight game while Jeff Halpern added a goal Thursday. Halpern has four points in his last two games, giving him eight goals and eight assists in 14 games with Tampa Bay since being traded from Dallas.
Vincent Lecavalier had an assist Thursday for his 600th career point. The team leader with 40 goals, Lecavalier has six goals and five assists versus Carolina this season.
These teams will conclude their season series Wednesday at Carolina.
|Apr 02 '08||TBL 2 at CAR 6||C. LaRose|
|Mar 29 '08||CAR 1 at TBL 2||J. Halpern|
|Mar 01 '08||TBL 1 at CAR 5||J. Corvo|
|Dec 22 '07||CAR 4 at TBL 1||R. Whitney|
|Dec 06 '07||CAR 1 at TBL 2||M. St. Louis|
|Nov 23 '07||TBL 3 at CAR 4||G. Wesley|
|Nov 14 '07||CAR 1 at TBL 6||V. Lecavalier|
|Nov 08 '07||TBL 5 at CAR 1||S. O'Brien|