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Hurricanes continue chase for eighth vs. Lightning

by Corey Masisak
HURRICANES (34-29-10) AT LIGHTNING (39-23-11)


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

Season series: Tampa Bay has won two of the three meetings, including a 4-3 overtime victory on Feb. 12. The teams have held serve at home to this point. They will play three times in the final nine games of the season.

Big story: The Hurricanes could close within a point of a playoff spot with a win and a regulation loss by Buffalo. For Carolina, this is the front end of a home-and-home matchup with division rival Tampa Bay.

Team scope:

Hurricanes: Carolina had lost four of five games and was in danger of fading to the fringes of the postseason race in the Eastern Conference, but the Hurricanes have rebounded with a pair of one-goal victories to keep within striking distance of the eighth-place Sabres.

The Hurricanes got a late goal from Erik Cole to force overtime Friday against the Islanders before Joni Pitkanen delivered the game-winner. Chad LaRose had two goals to help them to a 4-3 win against Ottawa on Tuesday night. The road to the playoffs will not be easy for Carolina. In addition to the three games against fifth-place Tampa Bay, the Hurricanes also have games against Detroit, Washington, Montreal and a potentially gigantic clash with Buffalo still remaining.

Lightning: Tampa Bay may have fumbled away a chance to capture the Southeast Division, but the Lightning have a chance to start playing more consistent hockey as the postseason approaches. They have lost nine of 11 games and 14 of 21 since the All-Star break.

Offense has been a problem at times for the Lightning in March. Tampa Bay has been held to less than three goals in eight of its 11 games this month and 12 of the past 16 contests overall.

"Concern is probably a little strong, but as a team, we are battling through some adversity right now, and it doesn't matter what type of team you are or how good you are, you are going to battle through adversity," goaltender Dwayne Roloson told reporters after a 5-2 loss to the Islanders on Tuesday. "Right now, that's what we are going through. We are battling through it, and we have to come out and do it ourselves."

Who's hot: LaRose has 3 goals in the past four games for the Hurricanes, while Tuomo Ruutu has 3 goals in the past seven contests. … Teddy Purcell has 8 points in the past nine games for Tampa Bay.

Injury report:
Carolina captain Eric Staal (undisclosed) did not play against Ottawa, but is expected to be in the lineup against the Lightning. Rookie defenseman Jamie McBain (shoulder) has not played since March 11, but coach Paul Maurice expects him to play at some point this weekend against the Lightning. … Tampa Bay will be without forward Ryan Malone (abdominal injury) and defenseman Randy Jones (ankle). Steve Downie (lower body) hasn't played since March 3 and is questionable.

Stat pack:
Cole has 1 goal and 6 points against the Lightning this season, while Martin St. Louis has 1 goal and 5 points against the Hurricanes.

Puck drop:
These two matchups will feature a pair of slumping young franchise players who might need to ignite their chances to collect some hardware at season's end. Carolina rookie Jeff Skinner, once the favorite for the Calder Trophy, has 3 goals and 7 points in his past 14 games and is likely to face a stiff challenge from Islanders forward Michael Grabner and Sharks forward Logan Couture.

Stamkos has been the favorite to collect the Hart Trophy as League MVP since Sidney Crosby's concussion-induced absence became long term, but he has not been scoring at the same rate of late. Stamkos continues to pace the NHL with 43 goals, but only six of them have come since Jan. 21 -- a span of 25 games. He has no points and is a minus-six in the past three contests for the Lightning.

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