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Hurricanes host Lightning in Southeast clash

by Brian Hunter
LIGHTNING (26-14-5) at HURRICANES (21-16-6)

TV: CW44, FS-CR (HD)

Last 10:
Tampa Bay 6-4-0; Carolina 6-2-2

Season series: Second of six meetings between these Southeast Division rivals. Steven Stamkos scored his 100th career goal on Dec. 20 as Tampa Bay claimed a 5-1 win on home ice over Carolina.

Big story: The Lightning continue to lead the Southeast, but there's plenty of competition for the division title this season. The three-time defending champion Capitals sit just two points back, the Thrashers are six off the pace, and now the Hurricanes have closed their own gap to single digits as they're nine out after a recent 6-0-2 run. Carolina is also just three points behind Atlanta for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. All division games in the second half will be crucial.

Team Scope:

Even though New Jersey sits at the bottom of the NHL standings this season, Tampa Bay hasn't had any easier a time in their meetings. The Lightning have dropped 12 of their last 14 to the Devils following Friday's 5-2 loss at home. Stamkos opened the scoring with a power-play goal, but the visitors shelled Dwayne Roloson for four scores in under six minutes, chasing him from the net. A breakaway goal by Martin St. Louis late in the second, on which Stamkos recorded his 200th NHL point, wasn't nearly enough to bring the Bolts back.

"It's unacceptable for us to get behind by that much," Stamkos said of the 4-1 first-period deficit.

Hurricanes: For the first time in nine games, Carolina failed to earn at least one point in Buffalo on Thursday, taking a 3-2 loss. The Hurricanes continue to hold at least one game in hand over seven of the eight teams currently ahead of them in the standings. They're also five points ahead of the Sabres for ninth. Tuomo Ruutu netted a power-play goal in the defeat and Jeff Skinner continued to be a bright spot, scoring his 15th of his rookie season in the final minute.

"It was one of those nights where we didn't have enough in the tank to create enough offense and get the job done," captain Eric Staal said. "A couple of mistakes and we weren't able to get it done."

Who's hot: St. Louis has 2 goals and 2 assists in his last four games for the Lightning. … Ruutu (3-4-7) and Skinner (4-2-6) have four-game points streaks going for the Hurricanes. Staal has 3 goals and 4 assists during a seven-game points streak.

Injury report:
Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith (knee) and Carolina forward Jiri Tlusty (upper body) are on injured reserve.

Stat pack:
The Lightning gave up their eighth shorthanded goal of the season Friday, tied for most in the League. … Cam Ward's next appearance for the Hurricanes will be his 309th and match Arturs Irbe for most by a goaltender since the franchise relocated from Hartford in 1997.

Puck drop:
There's been no in-between for Roloson since he was acquired by Tampa Bay -- in his three victories, he's allowed one goal on 89 shots (.989 save percentage), but he's been pulled from both his losses and allowed nine goals on just 32 shots (.719 save percentage). Guy Boucher could come right back with him Saturday -- Roloson played less than 16 minutes against New Jersey -- or go with Dan Ellis, who stopped 15 of 16 shots in relief on Friday.

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