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Hurricanes, Lightning chase key points in playoff race

by Mike G. Morreale

LIGHTNING (15-18-2) at HURRICANES (16-17-2)


Last 10: Tampa Bay 5-4-1; Carolina 1-8-1

Season series: Fourth of five meetings between these Southeast Division rivals, and the third in Raleigh. Tampa Bay has won the previous three matches, including a 4-2 victory on March 16. Lightning goalie Mathieu Garon has been in net for all three wins, stopping 88 of 92 shots.

Big story: Both teams continue to fight for their playoff lives. The Hurricanes have fallen outside the top eight in the Eastern Conference and need to establish more consistency down the stretch with just 13 games remaining. The Lightning are 1-0-1 under new coach Jon Cooper, but the team is next to last in the East.

Team Scope:

Lightning: Tampa Bay suffered its first loss under Cooper on Tuesday following a 3-2 shootout decision to the rival Florida Panthers. The loss spoiled an impressive comeback by the Lightning, who received goals by Tom Pyatt and Alex Killorn in a span of 4:56 in the third to tie the game. Panthers goalie Jacob Markstrom, who finished with 39 saves, stopped Teddy Purcell, Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos in the shootout.

Hurricanes: The Hurricanes have just one win in their past 10 games (1-8-1) and have slipped to 11th in the Eastern Conference. On Tuesday, the team couldn't hold a 2-0 lead as the Washington Capitals stormed back for a 5-3 victory. Jiri Tlusty connected for his first career hat trick for the Hurricanes, who once led the Southeast Division with a 15-9-1 record. The club now trails Winnipeg and Washington for the division lead.

"They're focused, they're passionate and they're showing it," coach Kirk Muller said of his team after the loss. "We're just not getting the end result, which is unfortunate because they deserve better. They're pushing hard."

Who's hot: Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis has recorded a point in 13 of his past 16 games and ranks second in the NHL with 35 assists. … Alexander Semin has two goals and six points in the past four games for the Hurricanes.

Injury report: Carolina defenseman Joni Pitkanen will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a broken bone in his heel Tuesday. Forward Tuomo Ruutu was out of the lineup on Tuesday with a groin injury. Defensemen Justin Faulk (knee) and goalie Cam Ward (knee) are also out. … For the Lightning, B.J. Crombeen returned to the lineup on Tuesday after missing the previous two games with a lower-body injury. Forwards Ryan Malone (shoulder) and Vincent Lecavalier (foot) remain on injured reserve. Lecavalier has begun practicing with the team, however, and could return soon.

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