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GAME: Carolina Hurricanes (38-12-4) at Tampa Bay Lightning (30-22-4).

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

The team against which the Carolina Hurricanes have struggled the most this season is the one they're trying to replace as Stanley Cup champions.

Carolina tries to extend its NHL points lead and avoid another loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a matchup of the Southeast Division's top teams.

The Hurricanes have a league-high 80 points and are 16 ahead of the second-place Lightning in the Southeast despite losing three of four meetings this season. The latest matchup came on Dec. 26, when Dan Boyle's goal with 33.6 seconds left in overtime gave Tampa Bay a 5-4 victory.

"We should have picked up the win ... there's no doubt about it," Carolina goalie Martin Gerber said. "Especially in those games against them, we want to get all the points. We don't want to share anything with them. We've got to do a better job next time."

The Lightning are the only team with a winning record against the Hurricanes this season that has played them more than once. Carolina has won just twice in the last 15 meetings.

"It just seems like we're constantly letting this team back into games when we get maybe an edge or a little bit of momentum," Hurricanes winger Erik Cole said after his team blew a 3-2 lead in the Dec. 26 meeting.

Carolina, though, carries momentum into Thursday's game, having lost only two of its last 17 contests.

The Hurricanes recovered from a pair of one-goal deficits on Sunday and defeated the Boston Bruins 4-3 in a shootout.

"Whether we're up a goal or down a goal we keep coming," Carolina left wing Cory Stillman said. "It goes to show you what our team is made of."

Doug Weight, playing his second game with the Hurricanes since being acquired from St. Louis, scored the winning goal in the shootout.

Tampa Bay had won three straight until running into the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday and losing 7-4.

The Lightning committed nine penalties and trailed 6-1 in the third period before a late comeback attempt fell short.

"I thought parts of the game we played very well," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "But other parts we were brain dead ... We weren't playing badly, but we put ourselves in a bad spot with too many penalties."

STANDINGS: Hurricanes - 80 points, 1st place, Southeast Division. Lightning - 64 points, 2nd place, 16 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Hurricanes - Eric Staal, 34 goals, 37 assists and 71 points; Mike Commodore, 90 PIM. Lightning - Vincent Lecavalier, 24 goals; Vaclav Prospal, 39 assists and 57 points; Pavel Kubina, 76 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Hurricanes - Power play: 19.6 percent (70 for 358), 7th in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.7 percent (241 for 295), 17th. Lightning - Power play: 14.6 percent (48 for 329), 28th. Penalty killing: 83.4 percent (226 for 271), 13th.

GOALTENDERS: Hurricanes - Gerber (27-8-2, 3 SO, 2.69 GAA); Cam Ward (11-4-2, 3.41). Lightning - John Grahame (20-16-1, 5, 2.66); Sean Burke (10-5-3, 1, 2.57).

SEASON SERIES: Lightning, 3-1.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 26, 2005; Lightning 5-4, OT. At Tampa, Fla., Dave Andreychuk scored two goals and Boyle had the game-winner.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Hurricanes - 15-8-3 on the road; Lightning - 15-9-2 at home.

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