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Hurricanes-Lightning Preview

GAME: Carolina Hurricanes (23-9-2) at Tampa Bay Lightning (18-15-3).

TIME: Monday, 7:30 p.m. EST.

The Carolina Hurricanes are threatening to run away with the Southeast Division.

Carolina looks to put more distance between itself and struggling second-place Tampa Bay when the Hurricanes and Lightning face off at the St. Pete Times Forum.

The Hurricanes have won five in a row, their longest streak since a franchise-record nine-game run from Oct. 22-Nov. 11. Meanwhile, the Lightning's four-game slide is their worst since dropping a season-high six in a row from Nov. 1-11.

Carolina extended its current run as Rod Brind'Amour scored the 'Canes only power-play goal in 15 chances in a 4-3 win Friday over the Florida Panthers.

"It was a tough game, no question," Brind'Amour said. "I think if we had lost that, it would have been bad. But because we won, nobody's going to look back and say, 'Oh, what about this power play or that one?' It was a game where it wasn't pretty, but we got the job done."

The Hurricanes have scored a power-play goal in 10 of their last 11 games, converting 15 of 75 chances during that span.

Overall, Carolina has scored fewer than three goals just once in its last 11 games. Its 126 goals scored lead the Southeast and is good for third in the Eastern Conference behind division leaders Ottawa (142) and Philadelphia (128).

Eric Staal, snubbed last week from the Canadian Olympic team, has responded with four goals and three assists during a three-game points streak. He has three goals and an assist in three games this season against the Lightning.

Tampa Bay is coming off a 4-1 loss Friday to the Buffalo Sabres. Czech Olympic team selection Vaclav Prospal scored a power-play goal 2:17 into the contest, but U.S. Olympic goaltender John Grahame gave up four unanswered tallies.

The Lightning's latest losing skid comes after they had won 10 of 12.

"I think there were things within our team tonight amongst ourselves where it was boiling points and frustration with one another," Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said. "I think it's very important right now, when it gets to that level, that we've just got to stay together.

"There are some tough times in a long season. This is the time we need to stay together and just get through it."

Tampa Bay is expected to have Canadian Olympian Vincent Lecavalier back in the lineup after a one-game suspension for a high-sticking incident Thursday in a loss to the New York Rangers.

Lecavalier has two goals and two assists in three games against Carolina this season.

STANDINGS: Hurricanes - 48 points, 1st place, Southeast Division. Lightning - 39 points, 2nd place, 9 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Hurricanes - Staal, 25 goals and 49 points; Cory Stillman, 25 assists; Mike Commodore, 65 PIM. Lightning - Prospal and Fredrik Modin, 16 goals; Brad Richards, 28 assists; Prospal, 41 points; Pavel Kubina, 54 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 25): Hurricanes - Power play: 18.3 percent (41 for 224), 15th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.3 percent (153 for 193), 26th. Lightning - Power play: 15.2 percent (34 for 224), 22nd (tied). Penalty killing: 82.1 percent (151 for 184), 16th (tied).

GOALTENDERS: Hurricanes - Martin Gerber (17-6-1, 2 SO, 2.57 GAA); Cam Ward (6-3-1, 4.05). Lightning - Grahame (14-12-1, 1, 2.87); Sean Burke (4-2-2, 2.99).

SEASON SERIES: Lightning, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 20, Hurricanes, 6-4. At Raleigh, N.C., Matt Cullen and Justin Williams scored power-play goals in the third period to snap a 4-4 tie.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Hurricanes - 9-5-2 on the road; Lightning - 10-7-1 at home.

Associated Press
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