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GAME: New Jersey Devils (34-20-11-1) at Tampa Bay Lightning (37-17-7-5).

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

While the Tampa Bay Lightning are on the verge of the best regular season in franchise history, that is not where their main focus lies.

The Lightning, seeking a franchise-record seventh straight win, will continue their battle for the top seed in the Eastern Conference when the New Jersey Devils visit St. Pete Times Forum.

No team has been better since the calendar turned to 2004 than the Lightning, who are have lost just twice in regulation in their last 28 games (21-2-1-4). They have gained points in 11 straight (9-0-0-2), including a franchise record-tying six straight wins.

Tampa Bay, closing in on its second straight Southeast Division title, is battling Toronto, Philadelphia, Ottawa and Boston for the best record in the East. The Lightning are also in the race for the NHL's best overall record, currently trailing Detroit by one point.

"You want to start doing things now that we want to do in the playoffs, but at the same time, we don't want to peak right now," center Tim Taylor said. "Whether we finish third or second or first in the conference, to me, as long as we are playing well when it comes playoff time."

Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis each extended personal point streaks, combining for two goals and five assists in Tampa Bay's 5-3 victory at Chicago on Wednesday.

St. Louis, the NHL scoring leader, has eight goals and 15 assists during a 13-game point streak, tying the franchise record set by Brian Bradley in 1992-93.

Richards has six goals and 11 assists during his nine-game streak and Lecavalier has six goals and five assists in a six-game run.

"You've got so many guys playing well offensively," Richards said. "It doesn't hurt when you have six guys going all the time, getting a goal or two a night by two lines. We all feed off each other."

A victory Friday would be the Ligthning's 38th this season, matching the franchise record set in 1995-96.

New Jersey ended a season high-tying three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory at Florida on Wednesday.

The red-hot line of Scott Gomez, Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta had four goals and five assists as the Devils moved within six points of Philadelphia for the Atlantic Division lead.

"Right off the bat things were going well," said Gomez, who tied his career high with five points. "We've been sliding back a little too much. We needed to stop the bleeding. It was a great team effort."

Elias, Gionta and Gomez have 17 goals and 21 assists in New Jersey's past seven games.

STANDINGS: Devils - 80 points, 2nd place, 6 PB, Atlantic Division. Lightning - 86 points, 1st place, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Devils - Elias, 30 goals and 62 points; Gomez, 42 assists; Colin White, 75 PIM. Lightning - St. Louis, 32 goals, 46 assists and 78 points; Chris Dingman, 129 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 3): Devils - Power play: 15.6 percent (38 for 243), 18th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.6 percent (192 for 227), 12th. Lightning - Power play: 16.8 percent (47 for 279), 10th. Penalty killing: 84.5 percent (191 for 226), 13th.

GOALTENDERS: Devils - Martin Brodeur (31-20-10, 10 SO, 2.04 GAA); Scott Clemmensen (1-1-0, 1, 1.53). Lightning - Nikolai Khabibulin (22-15-6, 3, 2.35); John Grahame (15-7-1, 1, 1.86).

SEASON SERIES: Lightning, 2-0.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 9; Lightning, 4-1. At East Rutherford, N.J., Dave Andreychuk and Fredrik Modin scored the fastest goals in team history nine seconds apart in the third period to lead Tampa Bay.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Devils - 16-9-7-0 on the road; Lightning - 18-7-4-2 at home.

Associated Press
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