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Canadiens-Lightning Preview

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The best start of Vincent Lecavalier's career hasn't been enough to keep the Tampa Bay Lightning from plummeting within a point of last place in the Eastern Conference.

Lecavalier will try to help the sputtering Lightning improve the East's best home record when they meet the road-weary Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night.

Lecavalier has 25 goals and 30 assists for a league-leading 55 points, and is on pace for 55 goals and 66 assists - career highs in both categories. In 2006-07, Lecavalier led the league with 52 goals and was third with 108 points but Tampa Bay (15-19-3) lost in the opening round of the playoffs for the second straight season.

The top overall pick in the 1998 NHL draft accounted for all the scoring Wednesday in a 3-2 loss at Washington. The defeat was the Lightning's fifth in six games overall, and with 33 points leaves them just ahead of the Capitals for fewest in the East.

"Everybody says 'Don't panic. Don't panic,'" Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "There had better be some panic going on within this club to get this turned around, or it's going to spiral to where you have no luck at all."

Tampa Bay is 1-3-1 in its last five at the St. Pete Times Forum, but still has the East's best home mark at 12-6-2. Lecavalier has points in 17 of 20 home games this season including 14 multipoint efforts.

Goaltending, though, continues to be a big problem for Tampa Bay with a 3.27 goals-against average that's among the worst in the league. Rookie Karri Ramo, who has started the last three games in place of the ineffective Johan Holmqvist and Marc Denis after being recalled from the minor leagues last week, made 29 saves against the Capitals.

Ramo is 1-1-0 with a 1.51 goals-against average in two home starts this season.

The Canadiens (17-13-6) will try to avoid their third consecutive loss as they reach the midpoint of their season-high seven-game road trip. Despite the recent slump, Montreal is an impressive 11-6-2 on the road.

On Saturday, Andrei Markov scored short-handed and rookie Carey Price stopped 17 shots in a 4-1 loss to Pacific Division-leading Dallas. Coach Guy Carbonneau, who helped the Stars win the Stanley Cup in 1999, was disappointed with Montreal's effort.

"We talked about it before the game. I can accept losing when you show up and give the effort, but tonight there was only a little bit of that," he said.

Montreal has won three of its last four in Tampa Bay. The Canadiens lost at home to the Lightning 3-2 on Dec. 11 as Tampa Bay's Brad Richards scored the only goal in the shootout round.

Lecavalier, who grew up just west of Montreal, had a power-play tally in regulation.

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