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'Canes go for home-and-home sweep of Lightning

by John Kreiser

LIGHTNING (39-24-11) at HURRICANES (35-29-10)

TV -- SUN (HD); FS-CR (HD)

Last 10 --
Tampa Bay 2-4-4; Carolina 5-4-1

Season series -- It's the fifth of six games between the Southeast Division rivals, and the second in as many nights. Carolina scored four unanswered goals and hung on for a 4-3 victory at Tampa Bay on Friday to even the season series at two wins apiece.

Big story -- The Lightning are all but assured of a playoff berth, but the Hurricanes are the team that's hot coming down the stretch. They've won three in a row and are three points behind eighth-place Buffalo. The Bolts are staggering to the finish line -- they're just 2-6-4 in March, though with 89 points, it would be unlikely that they could be caught.

Team Scope:

Lightning -- The Bolts got off to a good start on Friday when Simon Gagne scored 7:12 into the game. But Tampa Bay was dominated for the next 40-plus minutes. The Lightning had only three shots on goal in the second period and managed just 21 for the game.

"When you don't shoot, you don't create momentum, and you don't create chaos in the offensive zone," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "We can't sustain any pressure, and that's what they did. They shot from everywhere."

Hurricanes -- The 'Canes are still in the chase for the final Eastern Conference playoff berth thanks to Friday's win in the opener of the home-and-home series. Eric Cole scored twice and Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal each had a goal. Staal's power-play goal in the third period made it 4-1 and proved to be the winner.

"We were able to buckle down and get two big points," said Cole, who has 3 goals in the last three games.

Who's hot --
Gagne has 4 goals in his last five games overall. Of his 14 goals this season, four have come against Carolina. … Skinner has 2 goals and 4 points in his last three games.

Injury report --
Tampa Bay will be without forward Ryan Malone (abdominal injury) and defenseman Randy Jones (ankle). Forward Steve Downie (ankle) returned Friday after missing nine games with an ankle injury. … Carolina rookie defenseman Jamie McBain (shoulder) has not played since March 11, but is expected to return Saturday.

Stat pack -- Carolina is 24-1-0 when leading after two periods and 14-4-2 in its last 20 against Tampa Bay. … The Bolts have lost their touch in close games -- they've lost eight of their last nine one-goal contests after going 10-0-2.

Puck drop -- After struggling to score earlier in the month, the 'Canes have found their offense at the right time. They've scored 11 times during the three-game winning streak. On Friday, the four goals were just enough to survive Tampa Bay's late surge.

"Regardless our situation in the standings, that would've been a tough loss, given how our hockey club played for, oh, I don't know, 56 minutes," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said after Friday's win. "I was real pleased with the effort we got out of everyone."

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