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Last loss to Lightning still stings Hurricanes

by Kurt Dusterberg /
RALEIGH, N.C. -- There's one thing the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning can count on before the first game of the season: The emotional tank is full.

"There's something on this one -- opening night," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "You want to get on that good feeling, that good roll."

For the Hurricanes, there is a little extra itch to get the season started. Their 2010-11 season ended with a 6-2 home loss to Tampa Bay, a game the Hurricanes needed in order to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So on top of Friday's home crowd and the divisional matchup, there is an element of payback in the air after a long summer.

"(Tampa Bay) has most of the same players we were up against, so we're going to have some of that in the back of our mind," Hurricanes captain Eric Staal said. "You want to take a piece out of them, no question. The fans are going to remember, and we're going to remember, but you want to focus on what you need to do to get the win."


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The Lightning are coming off their second-best season in franchise history with 103 points, trailing only the 106-point performance of the 2004 Stanley Cup championship team. Their season ended last spring with a Game 7 loss to Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Tampa Bay will begin the season with a leadership nod extended to 21-year-old star Steven Stamkos, who will be an alternate captain this season, joining fellow alternate Martin St. Louis and captain Vincent Lecavalier.

"Stamkos earned the respect of the rest of his team," said Lightning coach Guy Boucher. "It's not, you're a star, so you get a 'C' or an 'A.' He's earned it with all his attention to detail and paying the price and being unselfish."

Stamkos, the NHL's second-leading goal scorer last season with 45, took the news in stride.

"It's not something I'm thinking about coming into the game, getting all nervous about," Stamkos said. "But it's an honor. We have a lot of leaders on this team, so I'll just try to be more of a leader this year."

One of those leaders is St. Louis, who seems to save his best for games against Carolina. In six games against the Hurricanes last season, he had 3 goals and 6 assists. He has 34 lifetime goals against Carolina, his most against any team.

Both teams are a bit unsettled with their forward lines going into the opener. The Hurricanes juggled combinations throughout the preseason, and Maurice warned he would continue to mix and match Friday. But if yesterday's practice is any indication, Staal is likely to center reigning Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu.

Boucher -- who, like Maurice, is known for his in-game tinkering -- expects to go with St. Louis, Stamkos and Steve Downie on the top line. Lecavalier will begin centering Ryan Malone and Teddy Purcell.

"I hate comfort zones," Boucher said regarding his penchant for switching his forwards. "And I like to reward immediately guys that are ready."

Finding ready players Friday shouldn't be a problem.

"(The Hurricanes) have a whole summer's worth of emotions that are waiting to come out," Boucher said.  "We're going to have to be able to match their emotion, but we're going to have to be under control. We don't want to sabotage our game in the first period."

Tampa Bay will get its first look at 2010 first-round pick Brett Connolly. The 19-year-old, who was taken sixth in the draft, will make his NHL debut after three seasons as a high-scoring winger in the Western Hockey League.

Carolina will have six newcomers in the opening-night lineup, including Tomas Kaberle, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Tim Brent. Rookie defenseman Justin Faulk, who won a national championship with University of Minnesota-Duluth as a freshman in 2010, will make his NHL debut.
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