The Carolina Hurricanes are in the hunt for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, no thanks to their recent play at home.
Still seeking their first win at the RBC Center this month, the Hurricanes appear to have a good chance to get it Friday evening when they play the sputtering Tampa Bay Lightning.
Ninth-place Carolina (29-25-5) moved within three points of the East's final playoff spot following Thursday's 6-2 win over the New York Islanders.
Eric Staal, who leads the Hurricanes with 26 goals, scored twice to reach the 25-goal mark for the fourth time in his five NHL seasons.
Although the Hurricanes are inching closer to the playoffs, Staal said they are keeping the scoreboard watching to a minimum.
"We have to focus on our game and the way we need to play, and everything else will take care of itself," he said. "We know if we play the type of hockey that we did (Thursday) ... we're going to get our fair share of wins and we'll be fine."
Carolina has won its last four road games but has been unable to match that success at home, getting outscored 15-2 while losing all three games there this month.
"It's a chance for us to respond," said Staal, who has three goals in four games versus Tampa Bay (19-27-12) this season. "We have this win here and hopefully we'll build on it."
That appears quite likely against the Lightning - 13th in the East, and 16 points out of the conference's final playoff spot.
Carolina has won five straight meetings with Tampa Bay, including all four this season. The Hurricanes have also won five consecutive home games over the Lightning since a 5-1 loss on Nov. 8, 2007.
Carolina's Cam Ward has compiled a 1.95 goals-against average while winning his three starts against Tampa Bay this season. He is 6-1-0 with a 1.70 GAA in his last seven starts against the Lightning, allowing two goals or fewer in all of those contests.
Ward, who stopped 22 shots Thursday while making his sixth straight start, has a 4.85 GAA during Carolina's home losing streak.
While the Hurricanes have been struggling at home, Tampa Bay has been outscored 17-7 during a four-game road skid.
The Lightning played at home Thursday but still suffered their third straight defeat overall and eighth in 10 games, 3-2 to New Jersey in a shootout.
Ryan Malone, who has accounted for five of the team's 12 goals in the last four games, scored both Tampa Bay goals Thursday and staked the Lightning to an early two-goal lead.
The Lightning dropped to 11-6-6 when leading after the first period, and 7-22 in games decided by one goal.
"As a coaching staff, we have to be careful because if we see guys packing it in, then they won't be in the lineup," Tampa Bay interim coach Rick Tocchet said. "We have to go with people who are willing to stick to the system and want to play, and that's our job to make sure that happens."
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