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Banged-up Hurricanes try to hold onto division lead

by Corey Masisak

LIGHTNING (8-7-1) at HURRICANES (8-6-1)


Last 10: Tampa Bay 3-6-1; Carolina 6-3-1

Season series: The Lightning won 4-1 in the first matchup of the season Jan. 22. The two clubs have alternated victories in the past six meetings.

Big story: Can the injury-saddled Hurricanes hold onto to the lead in the Southeast Division against a team that appears to have stabilized after an up-and-down start?

Team Scope:

Lightning: Tampa Bay began the season with victories in six of seven games and a near-comeback in the only loss, but the offense slipped and the Lightning were winless in six straight. Wins against Florida and Toronto helped end the slide, and even with a loss to Boston, the Lightning have scored 12 goals in the past three games.

The Lightning scored only six goals in a four-game span at one point during the losing streak, but still lead the League at 3.81 goals per game -- a half-goal more per game than the second-place Chicago Blackhawks. The power play has been sharp (ranked fifth at 24.2 percent), but goal prevention (25th at 3.12 goals-allowed per game) remains a work in progress.

Hurricanes: While Tampa Bay raced to the front in the division title race, the Hurricanes started slow but eventually seized control. Carolina used a 5-0-1 run to move into first in the Southeast, but injuries have started to take a toll.

Back-to-back losses have allowed Tampa Bay and Winnipeg to creep closer, and only games played has the Hurricanes in third place in the conference and the Lightning in ninth.

"It's definitely tough when you have a few big guys out of the lineup," center Jiri Tlusty said. "But if we want to be a strong team, we have to win games without them and hope they will come back soon. We just have to do the right things and win the games for them."

Who't hot: Eric Staal has at least one point in 12 of the past 13 games for the Hurricanes, including six in the past five games.

Injury report: Tampa Bay will be without Ryan Malone (lower body) against the Hurricanes. Carolina's defense is a mess because of injuries. Three of the team's top four -- Joni Pitkanen (lower body), Tim Gleason (lower body) and Jamie McBain (upper body) -- are out of the lineup, which caused general manager Jim Rutherford to bring up top prospect Ryan Murphy from the Ontario Hockey League on an emergency recall. The Hurricanes also are without a pair of key forwards in Jeff Skinner (concussion) and Tuomo Ruuttu (hip).

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