HURRICANES (25-27-15) at LIGHTNING (31-29-7)
TV: FS-Carolinas (HD), SUN (HD)
LAST 10: Carolina 4-2-4; Tampa Bay 6-3-1
Season Series: The Lightning have won three of the first five matchups this season, though one went to overtime. One of the two teams has scored at least four goals in 12 straight meetings. There have been 90 total goals scored in those 12 contests, or an average of 7.5 per contest (the Lightning have won seven of them).
Big Story: This is pretty much a must-win game for a pair of teams on the fringe of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.
Hurricanes: The 'Canes missed the playoffs last season largely because of their poor record in the second half of back-to-back games. This season, a huge factor in the team's position in the Eastern Conference standings is its poor form when games take longer than 60 minutes to be decided.
The Hurricanes are 3-15 when the game is tied after three periods. They are the only team in the League without a win in the shootout -- Carolina is 0-6 in the tiebreaker. If Carolina was .500 in overtime/shootouts, the Hurricanes would be one point behind eighth-place Washington. Considering that two of those losses gave an extra point to Florida and one to Washington, the race in the Southeast Division could look a lot differently if the Hurricanes were better after the third period ends.
Lightning: Tampa Bay blew a huge opportunity Thursday night in Washington. They led the Capitals going into the third period, but instead of getting level with Washington at 70 points, Tampa Bay lost a point and gave the Capitals two with an overtime loss. They are now three back of the eighth-place Capitals.
Hope remains for the Lightning, but they must excel during a seven-game homestand, which begins with the visit from the Hurricanes. The Bolts are 20-10-2 at Tampa Bay Times Forum, and will finish with six of the last eight games on the road, where they are only 11-19-5. There are contests against Boston and St. Louis, but there are also five games against teams not currently in the top eight of either conference. Ten points might be the minimum Tampa Bay needs from this homestand to have a chance in the final couple of weeks.
Who's Hot: Eric Staal did not register a point in Carolina's overtime loss to Buffalo on Wednesday, but he did collect one in 12 straight games. That is the longest such streak by a player since the franchise moved to North Carolina from Hartford. He had seven goals and 20 points during the streak. … Tampa Bay's Teddy Purcell will try to match Staal's streak of 12 straight games with a point against the Hurricanes. He's had seven goals and 22 points during his 11-game streak, and Purcell also has 27 points in his past 16 contests.
Injury Report: The Hurricanes are without defenseman Joni Pitkanen (concussion) and forward Tuomo Ruutu (upper body). … Tampa Bay is without defensemen in Matthias Ohlund (knees) and Marc-Andre Bergeron (back), as well as goaltender Mathieu Garon (groin). Captain Vinny Lecavalier (broken hand) is also out, and GM Steve Yzerman traded away three regulars at the deadline -- defenseman Pavel Kubina and forwards Steve Downie and Dominic Moore.
Stat Pack: Carolina defenseman Justin Falk leads all rookies at the position in goals (eight) and ice time (22:47 per contest). … The Hurricanes are trying to avoid becoming only the second team in the history of the shootout to go winless in the tiebreaker over a full season. The other: the 2006-07 'Canes, who went 0-5. … Lightning star Steven Stamkos is two goals away from his second 50-goal season; he would become just the sixth player to have multiple 50-goal performances before turning 23.
Puck Drop: The Lightning are expected to be without Garon for the rest of the regular season, so they called up 22-year-old Dustin Tokarski and he played well in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Capitals. Dwayne Roloson, who lost the No. 1 job to Garon earlier this season, hasn't allowed fewer than three goals in a start since Nov. 17 and has the worst goals-against average in the League among goalies with more than one appearance this season.
So it may be Tokarski's net to lose at this point.
"It's probably the best time to bring him up," coach Guy Boucher told reporters. "This was something that was a possibility at some point this year, and I think the circumstances are giving him an opportunity at the best part of the year for him, where it matters in the NHL and at the same time the best moment in regards to his confidence."