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'Canes must beat Lightning to make playoffs

by John Kreiser

LIGHTNING (45-25-11) at HURRICANES (40-30-11)

TV -- NHL NETWORK-US (HD); SUN (HD); FS-Carolinas (HD)

Last 10 --
Tampa Bay 6-3-1; Carolina 8-1-1

Season series -- Both teams end their regular season as they meet for the sixth and final time. They've alternated victories, beginning with the Lightning's 5-1 win at home on Dec. 20.

Big story -- The Hurricanes took command of the race for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference on Friday by routing the Thrashers 6-1 in Atlanta. With the Rangers winning on Saturday afternoon, the Hurricanes know they need a win -- whether in regulation, OT or a shootout -- to earn the eighth and final playoff berth.

Team Scope:

Lightning -- Tampa Bay delighted the home fans Friday by beating Florida 4-2 to break the 100-point mark for the first time since 2003-04, when the Lightning went on to win the Stanley Cup. They're assured of finishing fifth in the East and will play Pittsburgh or Philadelphia in the opening round -- a terrific season for a team with a new GM and coach that hadn't made the playoffs since 2007.

"I'm very pleased and proud with what we've done here,'' coach Guy Boucher said after the Bolts beat Florida. "We're only in Year 1 of our plan, and you talk about accelerating a plan.

"This is definitely accelerating it.''

Carolina -- The 'Canes brought their "A" game at the right time -- they jumped on the Thrashers early and never took the foot off the gas. Jeff Skinner and Erik Cole gave Carolina a 2-0 lead just 6:15 into the game, and the Hurricanes never looked back.

Ironically, it was the Thrashers who opened the door for the 'Canes by winning 3-0 in New York on Thursday.

"We're in control of our own fate," said goalie Cam Ward, who lost his bid for back-to-back shutouts when the Thrashers scored in the final minute. "Certainly it is not over. Tomorrow will be a big day for us."

Who's hot --
Lecavalier has 6 goals and 6 assists in his last 10 games, including two goals against the Panthers. Martin St. Louis has an eight-game points streak and has set a career-high with 66 assists. … Rookie Jeff Skinner has 3 goals in his last two games and 7 points in his last five. Ward is 5-0-1 in his last six games, allowing just nine goals.

Injury report --
For the Lightning, defenseman Randy Jones (high ankle sprain) is out. Fellow defenseman Victor Hedman (lower body) is questionable. Boucher may opt to rest some of his veterans with nothing on the line for his team. … Carolina's Jay Harrison (lower body) is day-to-day.

Stat pack -- Carolina is 14-5-2 in its last 21 meetings against Tampa Bay. … Ward is 16-10-2 with a 2.88 GAA in 29 appearances against Tampa Bay.... Tampa Bay's Simon Gagne has six of his 16 goals this season against Carolina.

Puck drop -- Carolina coach Paul Maurice is expecting a good effort from the Lightning, even though Tampa Bay has nothing to play for. But he's more concerned about his own team than the Lightning.

“You’re either going or you’re not," he told the team's website on Saturday. "We’re not going to expect much out of them -- and what I mean by that is we’re going to focus solely on our game. We won’t spend an awful lot of time wondering or worrying about Tampa. We’ll expect their best and prepare our players.”

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