LIGHTNING (30-28-6) at HURRICANES (24-27-13)
TV: SUN (HD), FS-Carolinas (HD)
Tampa Bay 6-4-0; Carolina 4-2-4
Season Series: This is the fifth of six meetings between the Southeast Division rivals, who will wrap up their season series next week. The teams have split their previous four meetings this season, the most recent of which was won 5-2 by Carolina at Tampa Bay on Jan. 12.
Big Story : The Hurricanes are all but assured of missing the playoff after a poor start, but the Lightning are making a late push to try to overcome their bad starts. They come to Raleigh just four points out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Lightning: Tampa Bay's 2-3-2 record to start February gave the impression that another losing month was in the works for the Lightning, effectively wasting a big scoring run by Steven Stamkos. But a 5-2-0 record to end the month, led in large part by Stamkos, gave the team new life and a glint of hope to make the playoffs.
Against the conference-leading Rangers on Friday night, the Lightning fell into a 2-0 hole, rallied to take a 3-2 lead on Stamkos' League-leading 45th goal of the season, allowed a late goal that sent the game to overtime -- but got the extra point when Ryan Malone scored 1:58 into OT for a 4-3 win.
"I think everyone in this locker room likes to prove people wrong," Malone said. "Everyone stepped in and played a great game. I thought we did a good job, and that's all we wanted."
Hurricanes: Kirk Muller, who took over as coach after a bad start cost Paul Maurice his job in late November, has the 'Canes going in the right direction -- they lost just once in regulation in February and ended the moth with a 4-3 win against Nashville.
But Thursday's 3-2 home loss to the Rangers illustrated the fact that the Hurricanes have a way to go. After getting the game's first goal, Carolina allowed three unanswered tallies by the Rangers, then failed on a four-minute power play late in the third period. A last-minute goal by Jay Harrison only served to get them close.
I thought our guys played hard," Muller said. "We pushed, they pushed us back in the second and we had to come back in the third. We just fell short."
Who's Hot: The Lightning have been led by Stamkos, who has 16 points in his last eight games, as well as Teddy Purcell, who has 17 points during his current eight-game point streak. … For the Hurricanes, captain Eric Staal has 18 points during his current 10-game point streak. Jeff Skinner, after struggling following injury, has four points in his last three games.
Injury Report : Tampa Bay's infirmary is a busy place. Matthias Ohlund (surgery on both knees), Dana Tyrell (knee surgery), Vincent Lecavalier (hand), Victor Hedman (upper body), and Marc-Andre Bergeron (back) are all on IR. … The Hurricanes are missing Patrick Dwyer (lower body), Joni Pitkanen (concussion/knee), and Tuomo Ruutu (upper body) while Chad LaRose is questionable with an upper-body injury. Backup goaltender Brian Boucher is expected to dress after missing three months with a lower-body injury.
Stat Pack: Tampa Bay's resurgence has been sparked by one obvious source and one not so obvious. Stamkos is the franchise player who has brought the Bolts back from the brink after leading the League in February with 11 goals and 22 points. Not quite as obvious, Mathieu Garon, who was the backup goaltender coming into the season, has been a shutdown force in the crease, going 11-3-2 in his last 16 starts.
Puck Drop: If they do make the playoffs, the Lightning might be the one team that wouldn't mind facing the Rangers. The Bolts went 2-1-1 against New York this season, are 6-1-1 in the past two seasons and have beaten All-Star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist six times in their last seven meetings.